Last year I had the chance to do an interview with a former classmate and friend Lt. Col. Mark Weber on his thoughts regarding “Leadership, Learning, and Failure.” Three years ago Mark had gotten a request to rejoin General David Petraeus as he was appointed to take command of the war in Afghanistan. From a routine blood draw and examination it was discovered that what Mark thought had been an ulcer was in fact cancer. For the last few years, Mark has taken great care to share his journey in his fight against cancer illuminating his circumstances to help others in their fight. Frequently he didn’t have “answers” from the medical community so he decided to lead the assault himself, figuring it out along the way. In the summer of 2012 Mark decided to take control of writing his own narrative too, wanting to share not just his cancer journey but his life story in a book Tell My Sons. Like every father, he wanted to hand down his thoughts, ideas, and lessons learned for his sons.
In my last post I had highlighted the benefits of being a young entrepreneur in experiencing failure sooner rather than later in life (Why Youth Can Be an Advantage in Being an Entrepreneur). As I was working on that story I kept thinking about how the same advice holds true for the young employee as well. Learning from our failures doesn’t have to equate to getting older. Last week I published an article on The 5 Traits of Those Who Learn and Grow from Failure for YouTern.com, a publication focused on students looking for internships or recent college graduates.
Business2Community just published my article “A Look In The Mirror: Learning From Failure” yesterday. In the article I describe how organizations need to address their failures instead of running from them if they are truly going to learn. I suggested that an organization’s HR function can act as a catalyst in addressing failures by creating an opportunity to share the lessons learned with the entire organization. One way that an organization can start building in a tolerance for failure is by having their own Failure Forums where they address each failure with three questions: 1) What did the team accomplish?, 2) What did the team learn?, and 3) What would they have done differently? If every organization would embrace failure in this way I guarantee that we would see a significant improvement in innovation by reducing our fear of failure.
There are few organizations in the world that better understand the importance of learning from our failures than the United States Armed Forces. In fact, every branch of the US military uses an After Action Review (AAR) process to analyze the successes or failures of their missions by examining what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better next time. The AAR is focused on creating a clear comparison of what were the intended results vs. the actual results.
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