You can learn as much from failure as success
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
…but this isn’t one of those articles!
When I wrote my book “Be a Great Manager Now” a fair assumption may have been that I was “a great manager” who decided to write a book. While fair it would have been incorrect. This was not my life’s opus. Academically I studied it – my PhD is in business psychology, and teach the soft skills surrounding it; I have certainly held management roles within my own businesses and for others; and I work as a leadership coach. But the majority of learning in that book came from working for a number of poor managers and constantly reflecting on a) why that approach was ineffective – or downright awful; and b) what could be done instead. Never has the phrase “I’ve learned a lot from you” spoken as part of an exit email (I wasn’t often interviewed – but I always felt it was important to clarify my reasons – for not for me – for the next person) meant so much and yet been understood so disparately.
You do not always need a positive role model to become good at something. Learn from what has been done wrong, and use your awareness to put it right.
The origin of the quote “A fool learns from his own mistakes, the wise man from the mistakes of others” (now changed to “a smart man learns from his own mistakes” – to reflect the current (and appropriate IMHO that ones own failures are too a learning experience) has been attributed to different sources, but forms the essence of this article.
Think about how much you can learn from observing behaviour you do not like.
A common tendency of mine is to “mute” social media accounts that cause me to feel anxiety or anger. People have a right to use their platform as they wish, and I just exercise my right to turn it off if I don’t want to see or hear. But more recently I have started to reflect on what it is I don’t like before I “snooze for 30 days”.
My thought process includes two reflections:
What don’t I like and why (usually this reflects on what I believe the person is trying to achieve and how s/he has gone about doing it)
What might be more effective
I might also consider the reasons why that person has taken that approach so as to gain a greter insight into that behaviour.
I then balance this with appreciating the people who inspire me – and looking at their approach to life too – what do I like and why, and how can I draw more of that out of myself.
This is not necessarily a life lesson for overall success – one style will never fit all. All this does, for me, is allow me to focus on living my best life and hopefully creating a world where I am surrounded with likeminded people – as we do tend to draw in what we put out there. It is also worth noting that if whatever you try to assimilate, people can spot a fake – for example, it is important to take a stand for a cause you care about and this can build trust, but if you are trying to weigh in on something where you have little personal connection or true understanding, this can have the opposite effect…I know I have watched the fall from grace of those who feel they need to be “seen” to be part of a populist movement only to be called out for doing little.
This week spend a moment reflecting on the behaviour of those you do not like. Ask yourself:
Why don’t I like it?
What are they trying to do?
Why has it failed?
With whom are they successful?*
How can this awareness inform my behaviour choices?
*I use the asterisk here, because if the behaviour you do not like is successful with a group that you wish to be successful with, you may need to consider if you are able to genuinely learn some of their methods…despite your not liking them.
…then take action accordingly.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt