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Contextualizing Failure

Leadership is not an aptitude we are born with, but a skill cultivated over a lifetime of trial and error when leading people and organizations.  Although we may wish for an uninterrupted meteoric rise in the ability to produce successful outcomes, most of us who have spent any time in leadership roles intellectually understand this is an unfair expectation of ourselves.  




We have all experienced disappointments, setbacks, failures and unintended outcomes, yet it is our reaction to these experiences that separates inspired leadership from those with something to prove.  

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck separates most leaders into two categories: fixed mindset leaders and growth mindset leaders.  

Fixed mindset leaders believe their talents are static and they are inherently good or bad at a specific skill.  Negative information or feedback challenges their belief in their intrinsic qualities; therefore they tend to avoid challenges, give up easily and dismiss constructive criticisms from others.   

Conversely, growth mindset leaders believe talents, skills and aptitudes can be cultivated through effort and learning.  They embrace curiosity, opportunities to learn from mistakes, encourage feedback from others and use unfavorable conditions as powerful motivators for growth.   

When leaders are asked to self-evaluate, they will often place themselves into the growth mindset category; however their behavior often reveals the true assumptions about the source of their leadership accomplishments.   Many engage in fixed mindset reactions to disappointing conditions, even if that dialog is largely internal.  A coach is a valuable partner to leaders navigating setbacks because they can identify the traces of fixed mindset thinking and develop a path of discovery toward a stronger growth mindset.  

As a result of a quality coaching partnership, leaders begin to embrace negative experiences for the opportunity they provide to learn, develop skills and improve leadership efficacy.  Leaders will be challenged to evaluate the assumptions they make about their positions of influence, identify counterproductive responses to unfavorable feedback and embrace the mindsets that facilitate positive outcomes.       

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