How Executive Coaching Helps Leaders Tap into the Power of Failure

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If you look at some of the most successful leaders in history, most have one thing in common: a long track record of failure.

  • Bill Gates had a failed business – called Traf-o-Data – before Microsoft.
  • Steve Jobs was fired as CEO of Apple in 1985, only to return 12 years later.

The bottom line is that failure is a key ingredient to success.

In this post, we want to examine Viktor Frankl – a holocaust survivor – and his relationship with failure.

Viktor Frankl

Viktor frankl

Viktor Frankl’s best-selling 1946 book “Man’s Search for Meaning” details his experience in a Nazi concentration camp. In this book, Frankl writes that the psychological toll of failing to escape or be freed led to the death of some of his fellow prisoners. He then suggests failure and unmet goals break people down rather than build them up.

Frankl’s notion about failure has merit and is noted in good science, though if we took that concept out of context, it might lead to incorrect business decisions; it does not always interrupt and teardown a person’s life – unless they let it. Failure is bound to happen to everyone at some point in life, especially to business leaders. However, it can (and should) be used to learn and develop.

Executive coaching can help business leaders learn from failures and grow rather than simply hit a wall. Let’s talk about how.

Understanding the Cause of Failure

Frankl writes about his belief that there is meaning in suffering. I would reasonably argue this statement is true though it is important to understand that meaning.  However true this statement may be in some cases, failure may also become a valuable lesson.

Learning to cope with failure begins with understanding what exactly failure is. The Oxford English Dictionary defines failure as “a lack of success.”  This definition gives the false impression that one form of failure will lead to more, which may simply be untrue when you learn from those failures and become stronger into the future.

Power Of Failure

Additionally, the term failure is commonly used as an insult. Being a “failure” does not mean that you cannot be or become more successful. We need to change the way we think when we hear this term, it does not have to be negative.

A lot of people fear the idea of failure, the perception others will have of them as a result of a failure, or get hung up on a past mistake limiting their ability to advance past whatever they failed at again. Business leaders will not maximize their potential if they fall prey to this mindset. Instead, business owners need to recognize the importance of unmet goals or mistakes, their root causes of them, as well as how they can learn – rather than moving on and narrowly setting a different path that may not necessarily be the best direction.

Instead of letting failure get you down, it is best to turn it into a lesson to help you rework your business approach and improve upon weaknesses. No business is perfect nor always right. Likewise, no business leader is perfect nor always right.  Success takes contemplative trial and error.

The Ability to Be Objective

Frankl explains humans can escape toxic situations based on how they respond to them. This is true in a sense, and much can be learned from Frankl’s findings.  When it comes to examining business failures – it is important you stay as objective as possible and sometimes must deal differently with challenging circumstances.

By working with a coach to remove the emotion away from the mistake or setback, you will be better positioned to recognize the steps that went wrong. Perhaps you’ll learn you need to take a different course of action next time.Ability To Be Objective

While some of the most successful leaders listen to and process the opinions of those around them, they also do not allow other people’s opinions of their failures to deter them from achieving their goals. You must learn from your mistakes, understand why they were mistakes, and strategize a new approach that will eventually lead to success.

Even the most successful people in the world have suffered mistakes in their lives. If they allowed opinions to break them down, they would not be the people we know now.

Successful Leaders Who Didn’t Allow Past Failures to Stand in Their Way:

Here are a few examples of business leaders, athletes, and celebrities who grew from their failures.

Sir James Dyson

James Dyson

The founder of Dyson vacuums once stated that he failed over 5,000 times before eventually developing a cordless vacuum that works well.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah was once fired from her local news position on the basis that she was “not cut out for television news”. Instead of letting the opinions of others ruin her career, she pushed forward and became one of the biggest television hosts in the United States.

The Beatles

The Beatles

The Beatles were rejected by their first record label; however, they later became one of the most influential rock bands of the past century.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. He later went on to be regarded as THE greatest professional basketball player in history.

Tactics for Using Failure as a Tool

Properly applied, Frankl’s incredible story of perseverance in some of the harshest and vile circumstances of our world’s history could be a benefit to people who are looking to challenge themselves to be better.  Executive coaching can help facilitate what we learn from Frankl’s teaching and further apply additional science to effective leadership.

One such example can be derived from a study conducted by Northwestern Kellogg School. This study analyzed scientists who applied for grants early in their careers. They categorized those who received money for their research as the “success group”, and those who did not as the “failure group”.

Early Career Setback And Future Career Impact

Source: nature communications

They tracked how many of the scientific papers from each group had cited work throughout the next decade. Those who were part of the “failure group” were 6.1% more likely to have a cited paper than those in the “success group.”  The study concluded the failure group learned from their unmet goals and developed as needed to become more skilled within their field.  Many people who are leaders have already had a lot of success in their careers.  Engaging an executive coach can help push a leader beyond their success and further elevate the ceiling of their potential.

Failure can be used as a psychological tool to fuel improvement and overall success. Past mistakes help a business owner notice weaknesses and realign their goals to improve upon them. When you have experienced a failure, you have been given a gift in the form of an opportunity to prevent it from happening again if you are able to examine what went wrong.

How can Executive Coaching Help?

An executive coach will work with you one-on-one to help you develop a leadership strategy from your successes, failures, and untapped efforts.  Executive coaches are professionals focused and trained to help leaders enhance their tools to maximize their success.

Executive Coaches Help Leaders

Executive coaches help leaders:

  • Deepen their own self-awareness
  • Gain clarity on possibilities to address their business challenges
  • Further, understand the reasons for their success
  • Appreciate the root causes of failure
  • Challenge their leadership skills toward growth
  • Ultimately, achieve their goals.

In Conclusion

Viktor Frankl had an incredible story to tell about resilience and the will to survive and has very grounded views that we can learn from.  His theories can be augmented through the help of skilled executive coaches to fully tap into elevating a leader’s potential.

If you experience a business failure or understand your success has come with potential blind spots and would like help working through it, – Strategy People Culture is here to help. We are an executive and leadership consulting business specializing in helping business leaders better themselves. Our biggest goal is your success, and we are ready to take on any concerns you have with your business or personal development.

If you are ready to turn your failure into success, contact us today!

Phone: 833 ROCK SPC


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Andy Botwin

Andy is a seasoned executive & leadership coach, independent workplace investigator, and trainer with more than 25 years of experience working with companies across various levels. He was Chief Human Resources Officer for a 1500+ person professional services firm and a Principal & Chief Human Resources Officer for a top national professional services firm where he drove culture change in the organization culminating in recognition on Fortune Magazine’s prestigious 100 Great Places to Work in America.