Updated: Feb 18, 2020
Accepting failure is never easy; especially when we are surrounded by so many gurus and media hype singing in chorus: Never give up.
Grit and resilience are important qualities of a leader, but when adhered to blindly, without adapting to changing environments and assessing the opportunity cost of doing so, is foolhardy.
If a member of your team is not growing despite your efforts, maybe it's for them to move on.
If a project that you have so passionately believed in for the past 12 months is still struggling to succeed, hanging on comes at the expense of accomplishing other more meaningful projects. You may have just found the right answer to the wrong question.
If you are disrespected, not being appreciated or valued in your job, perhaps you don’t need to prove yourself any further; maybe it’s time to find a new job. If you wake up in the morning dreading to go to work, knowing your heart has stopped beating and feeling so stuck in your comfort zone, maybe you don’t need a new vacation; you may need a new career.
Accepting failure is accepting full responsibility. Coming to terms with falling short means not only being accountable for your mistakes, but also in learning the lessons available to you. Taking responsibility for a mistake is anchored in the past, for the decisions and actions we have taken, while validating the pain and disappointment that naturally follow. However, leaders who only take responsibility for their mistakes and stay in the same place may get stuck in their self-reproach with guilt while carrying the burden of the past that becomes too heavy for them to move forward.
Taking responsibility for the lesson is anchored on the future. Moving forward, we may ask several questions. What can we learn from this experience? What are the things we can do differently? What new opportunities are emerging from this episode? Taking responsibility for the past must also go with taking responsibility for the future.
This to me is taking full responsibility. It’s not about “Never Give Up,” it’s about knowing when to persevere with grit and resilience and when to accept failure, reflect, and move on. Wisdom lies in knowing the difference between these two.
Quitters are not losers. Leaders who can create a team culture whereby team members feel safe to try new things, experiment with new ideas and accept failures, can empower the team to grow exponentially. Getting stuck in the same cycles under the proxy of never giving up may be a form of self deception that we can liberate ourselves from when we learn to accept failure as part of the natural order of things.
The self-esteem of a team should not be based on "being," but on "learning." Are there projects, relationships, or goals that you or your team members appear to be stuck in? Never give up is bullshit — don’t fall for the trap. It is always wise to know if and when it’s time to move on.