Plutarch said, “To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes, the wise and the good learn wisdom for the future.”
A profound statement: great for those motivational office posters or calendar quotes. But how does it help you bounce back from that totally FUBAR’ed[i] project or failed strategy? When that “debacle” happens, your managers, investors, partners etc. will not always pat you on the back, hand you a Starbucks gift card and tell you, you’re still a star… regardless of how much money, and or time was lost. In fact, the discussions that follows may be too much, no matter what size chai you get. But when the emotions settle, understanding Plutarch’s words become incredibly important.
Your ability to minimize or absorb failures effectively will determine whether you will survive, or thrive in your world. Those failures that feel like they crushed the motivation out of you, are actually learning moments that strengthen and sharpen your senses, skills, knowledge and most importantly, your wisdom…if you let them. It’s these moments when confidence needs to be your killer app.
How do we prepare ourselves to ensure we are able to withstand even the most devastating challenges to our confidence?
Establish a strong reputation
The world is not always cruel. How often do you hear: ‘there can be no innovation without failure’? However, your investors and your leaders do expect results and they have a ‘pain threshold’: they know how much they can tolerate. A strong reputation can help absorb failure if you establish these critical qualities:
INTEGRITY: be honest and always ensure your team and your supporters know exactly where things stand; whether positive or negative.
COMPETENCE: do your best to be their expert and gain their trust.
UNDERSTANDING: ensure your team and supporters know that YOU know what they need and why. Your empathy and comprehension, is critical.
You can always draw support from within yourself and others if you believe in your ability, have been honest, and you truly understand the significance of the failure.
Remember that confidence is not the same as arrogance. To believe that you are above anyone serves you no purpose.
Don’t let arrogance lead you down the path to failure. Anyone who believes they are omnipotent and forsakes the support from their teams, their friends and family, or their leadership, etc. is shortchanging themselves. Those inputs (gifts), in the form of guidance, influence, creativity, vision, skills, funding, wisdom, criticism, objectivity and much more are great treasures. Your ability to respect and use the “gifts” from those around you will make you far more powerful than if you stood alone. Walter Isaacson’s book The Innovators, brilliantly demonstrates how the world would not have experienced such exponential transformation if not for the ability of great people to collaborate and combine ideas, skills and efforts – whether it was intentional or not. Brilliant, powerful, visionary individuals proved that the power of one person is not comparable to the infinite possibilities when she harnesses support from outside of herself.
Understand and respect your abilities; be thankful you have them.
Exercises that are important for establishing a healthy confidence in our abilities: looking inward and being grateful.
- We must take the time to understand ourselves by looking inward and listening to ourselves in a way that is honest and loving. It is not about criticizing ourselves, but establishing an understanding that will lead to knowing our strengths, and the power behind those abilities. More importantly, it enables us to be honest about where we need to seek more from ourselves and from others around us, empowering us to be confident but not arrogant. It opens our eyes to know whether we are doing our best, or whether we are not.
- Be thankful for the skills and abilities you have. Use them wisely to make great things possible. Whatever they are, your abilities are your gift and they become your gift to others. What it is about what you do, that can create, that can teach, that can enable others? Once you believe and are thankful for them, why would you ever forsake those gifts, because of a few bumps in the road? “Fall down seven times, get up eight”, is a great Japanese proverb.
Teddy Roosevelt actually had a response to Plutarch’s quote, although many years later. He said, “The only [person] who never makes a mistake, is the [person] who never does anything”. So it is possible to not make mistakes…but it would be boring as hell to sit around never really doing anything.
[i] F’d up beyond all recognition – it’s a scientific term