Failure provides an opportune moment for growth. Navigating its immediate aftermath constructively, though, requires a blend of emotional awareness, grit, positivity, and the right mindset. Where the stigma against failure is particularly high, the subsequent fear of failure often ends up paralysing or crippling one’s personal growth.
This is particularly true here in Singapore, whose culture tends to catastrophise failure and associate it heavily with “losing face.” When failure inevitably occurs, then, it becomes especially taxing on one’s mental and emotional reserves.
Managers who aim to help their employees turn failure into growth need to be empathetic to understand what exactly is holding each of their people back from utilising their failures to learn and unlock greater heights. Here are five steps to do just that.
P.S. Empathy is a manager’s superpower. Discover how to unlock it in your professional capacity; sign up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on applying emotional competence to manage self and others in a business context!
The crushing burden of failure can be devastating, especially if it came in spite of hard work. The more blood, sweat, and tears were poured into a project, the more it stings when it still fails.
To begin the process of self-reflection that sparks the road to recovery, people need to be willing to look objectively at what went wrong and why things didn’t go according to plan. As a manager, you need to guide them through this process, but it’s impossible to do this if you don’t provide psychological safety for them.
People need to feel safe enough to have authentic, self-reflective conversations about what went wrong without being judged or negatively apprehended for it. Only then will they be able to be honest with themselves and others, think about how to do better.
Denial is the first stage of grief. Similarly, at times, people react to failure by attempting to escape confronting their shortcomings.
This behaviour manifests itself in different ways. Some point fingers at everyone else, some distance themselves from the rest, and some might even try to convince themselves that it wasn’t a complete failure. In this case, while optimism is critical in overcoming defeat, failing to temper it with realism isn’t just unwise; it’s a surefire losing strategy.
It’s crucial to help people recognise that their skills and expertise are dynamic, not fixed. The more people see their abilities as fixed, the higher their resistance tends to be to encountering and recovering from failure. Ensure that you shift the perspective of failure from a reflection of their shortcomings to an indispensable element in the learning process.
In other words, inculcating the growth mindset into your employees is vital to helping them rise to the occasion. If they understand failure as a learning opportunity, it ceases to be something fearful or even shameful.
Processing the negative emotions and negative self-talk that often result from failure isn’t easy. It is, though, necessary to understand and work through these emotional responses to move on. Help people understand that negative emotions aren’t to be silenced and suppressed; doing so will only strengthen their hold.
Conversely, when one gives oneself time and space to sort through them without letting them lord over you, one stays in control of her emotions. To that end, it’s good to invite them to think out loud and share their thought and emotional processes as they engage in self-reflection.
Facilitating greater emotional self-awareness and self-regulation in this way is key to fostering better emotional intelligence in the long run.
“Fool me twice, shame on me.” It may be hard to take failure in your stride, but the battle doesn’t end just because you’ve successfully dealt with your negative emotions in the aftermath. Any failure that doesn’t result in a real learning experience would have been in vain.
Ensure that your employees can identify their takeaways from failure, and discuss practical strategies with them to improve their performance so that history won’t repeat itself.
Essentially, managers need to help their people take personal responsibility for what they learn and how they choose to make changes to their work moving forward.
This last step should be a no-brainer, yet so often, managers neglect it in favour of other responsibilities. One of the biggest reasons why people leave for greener pastures is that they feel like they’re not learning. So often, this comes down to insufficient engagement between managers and employees. When people fail, they are even more susceptible to feeling neglected by their superiors.
Demonstrate your commitment to your people’s growth and your confidence in their abilities to perform well by following up regularly with them. Use these follow-ups to discuss their progress on implementing the previously mentioned strategies and learning points, or if they’re encountering any difficulties with regards to that.