Fail Gracefully to Achieve Self Awareness

It’s a challenge to quantify the self-described leadership pundits who claim to offer “quick fix” advice to aspiring leaders in the form of books, blogs, speaking engagements, and seminars.

Their answer to great leadership is often: “Open the box. Add boiling water. Voila! Instant Excellence!”

But excellence isn’t instant. It cannot be so easily defined and, certainly, not so easily ascertained because leadership is a complex recipe involving diverse ingredients.

In previous posts, I have touched upon the Four Intangibles of Successful Leadership:

  • Honesty – Tell and live by the truth
  • Humility – Be truly humble within yourself and toward others
  • Empathy – Seek first to understand and respect others’ reality
  • Integrity – Consistently do the right thing, at all times, in all situations

I believe that a lack of any of the above doesn’t eliminate the ability to lead but rather lessens the ability to lead brilliantly.

To achieve the intangibles, you get no magic box nor bean and certainly no bean stalk; you are not given a treasure map. The secret to attaining these absolute and critical intangible qualities resides in “Self Awareness”.

What is it?

Most people don’t recognize their deficiencies because they are not actually self aware.  Becoming more self aware can happen in many ways and I contend that the most common path for people to gain self-awareness is to fail graciously.

Failing gracefully is the act of maximizing the learning opportunity associated with each and every failure that one experiences. It is to reach inside of an unsuccessful attempt and find the moral, the lessons, and the virtues that the event has provided and to apply that to future opportunities.

I’m the Problem and The Solution

Hubris cripples humility; foregoing the former can seem an unconquerable foe. To the hubristic, humility is a four letter word; the probability of giving credit, where due, can be a painful prospect. How do I know? I struggled with this and, at times, still do. However, I have no doubt that achieving greater humility improves my ability to lead.

I became appreciably more humble upon failing several times in my career due to excessive arrogance; in one circumstance, it nearly cost me my job.  In another, it cost me a promotion.  After a number of missed opportunities, I gained the  awareness that I was the problem and that I held the solution.

The Issue of Control

The acknowledgement of my hubris came only through failing gracefully.  The decision to alter my perspective came to me because I began to understand the importance of control.  To self actualize and achieve the intangible leadership qualities, one must first recognize that one DOES control one’s situation. I contend that, inherently, most people don’t really change. I do believe, however, that the only way to achieve deep and sustainable improvement is through genuine incorporation of the Four Intangibles.

What it all Means

There is no absolute, formulaic solution to great leadership; there isn’t one book in the world that can accurately represent the entire concept.  Leadership is a process. There is no alpha and no omega.  Great leadership is achieved through continuous learning, application, and enlightenment.  Only when you appreciate, understand, and genuinely dedicate yourself to applying the Four Intangibles will you achieve the next level of leadership.

But first….you must fail gracefully.