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Sunday, May 21, 2017

I Can't Fail!

The phrase "I can't fail" has been one that has been a part of several discussions over the past few months.  In addition, it has been rattling around in my own brain as I action a new, exciting and challenging venture in the next phase of my personal reinvention.  The interesting thing to note about the phrase is that on the one hand it can be seen and heard from a motivational perspective.  On the other hand, depending on where your head and heart sits, it might also be more of a lament and an expression of one's trepidation and fear about a direction you want to go.  As with most things in life it appears to me that the magic sits in the middle of these two extremes.
It's been some months ago that this phrase first came up in a consulting engagement I've been involved with.  An organization I've been working with has been going through a sizable change in its mandate which stemmed from a substantial change in economic realities but more fundamentally from changing political winds that called into question the organization's usefulness.  It was within this context that the imperative of redefining mandate that the notion of not being in a position to fail came up.  From one perspective, the reality they were facing and the external skepticism that permeated the debate around mandate suggested that any misstep in plan and execution, no matter how well intentioned, would cement perspectives on irrelevance or incompetence.  In this light, however, I questioned whether by not being more assertive, bold and visionary that the organization was in fact holding itself back from its potential.  More critically, was there a risk that they were living up to their own self-fulfilling prophecy.  The desire to avoid failure can often lead to limited or no success.  No risk, no reward.

In my coaching practice I've certainly seen this same mentality play out in a number of circumstances.  The need for quick wins, the concern about aggressively going after that next role, or as an entrepreneur or small-business owner anxious about taking that first or next big step in business development.  Essentially playing not to lose rather than playing to win.  This first plays into how most of us view failure - we don't see it as a learning opportunity, but rather as a fundamental comment on our skills, abilities and character.  Often this accompanied by an overwhelming anxiety that the vision established is too big to get our heads around and the steps to get there are not detailed enough to guarantee success.

It's also often the case that some of us actually fear success as much as we fear failure.  What if we start succeeding and the expectations that we have for ourselves and from others actually grow?  What's the next level of performance expected of us?  In many cases as leaders, entrepreneurs and business owners we have a number of others that look up to us and even rely on us for their success as well.

Associated with either of these fears - failure and success - are any number of detailed questions that give further context for the challenge we believe we are facing.  Do I have the right plan in place for the circumstances?  Do I really have the skills to pull this off?  Have I thought of every contingency?  Do I have enough or the right resources in place to make this happen?  What's the impact to me personally (or my family, or my staff) if I can't pull this off or if success takes longer than anticipated?

Alternatively, having a very inspirational but ungrounded view epitomized by an "I can't fail" mantra can in fact lead disaster and disappointment.  This is a vision not truly grounded in reality, real planning and conscious thought and execution.  I sometimes call this the "Facebook" commitment.  This is the belief that by merely stating for oneself - and sometimes in front of the "world" - my powerful vision that success will arrive on schedule and with expected impact.  Unfortunately, this is much more akin to asking for three wishes from the proverbial genie or buying lottery tickets and spending the winnings before the draw date.

Unfortunately, there are also going to be naysayers in our midst as well.  Now it's great if we can rely upon some sober second thoughts from our trusted advisers or supporters.  However, as with my own personal experience, we must guard against the imposition of standards and agendas not our own.  Too often we may hear "you're making a mistake" and allow those comments to generate or amplify our own self-doubt.  The ducks start quacking and may prevent us from standing in our own opportunities and strengths.  Balance all the available information, don't enter into a business or personal venture with rose-colored glasses, but consider the merits of the opportunity ahead.  Perhaps not everyone has the courage to pursue the vision you have or their perspective may be colored by their biases that do not serve you.

As I've said, there is a balance to be found.  And I've tried to find it in my own venture.  I've been exploring what I'm really good at.  I've been testing my theories and hypotheses with past and former clients.  I've been trying to evaluate as objectively as possible what the financial requirements and implications of delays or shortfalls might be.  I'm taking considered risk, motivated by the reality of a tangible and achievable outcome, appreciating potential challenges and preparing contingencies for them, and placing future plans within the context of past challenges, growth, and success.  My vision is inspiring to me, grounded in reality, and planned to an appropriate degree.

Is my plan 100% perfect?  No, because I can never anticipate every reality or issue that will crop up.  Is it sufficient to take confident action?  Yes.  Will I execute with 100% effectiveness?  Unlikely.  I can anticipate that I may falter or become distracted and that my fear of failure (and even success) will give me pause.  Ultimately leadership is about creating and actioning a powerful vision.  Nothing great has ever come from playing it safe.

At the end of the day if you can't fail maybe its because you truly didn't try.


Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
Executive Coach/Senior Consultant

Helping leaders realize their strengths and enabling organizations to achieve their potential through the application of my leadership experience and coaching skills. I act as a point of leverage for my clients. I AM their Force Multiplier.

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