Reframing Failure

Its time to re-frame failure. To avoid the word, people have tried to soften it by calling it a setback, major disruption, mistake, error in judgment, etc.  Use whatever word you like, it isn’t the word that is the problem, but how you interpret it, or personalize it. The stories  below are examples of how famous people have turned failure into success.

Thomas Edison: As a young boy, teachers wrote him off as someone who was unable to learn.  He was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive. He found his niche as an inventor, after 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb, 1,001 was a winner!

Bill Gates was a Harvard University dropout and co-owner of a failed business called Traf-O-Data. He was passionate about computer programming and built Microsoft, the world’s largest software company. Microsoft went public in 1986, and by 1987 Gates became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

What these individuals have in common is that they didn’t consider themselves as failures. They saw each step as a learning opportunity, that brought them closer to their goal.  They learned from their failures until they succeeded.

Nine out of 10 small businesses  fail. Seasoned entrepreneurs encourage new entrepreneurs to fail often and fast. Why? This mindset helps entrepreneurs learn from failure to improve their service or product. 

Why are we afraid of failure?

We can take failure personally by tying it to our talents and worth because we have been conditioned for success throughout our lives, for example:

  • When we were young, we were encouraged to do well in school and pass each grade. Passing a course or a grade is associated with success in life.
  • In sports, usually only the top three competitors are rewarded for their success.
  • There is competition to get into elite career programs. Getting into an elite program is an indicator of success, status, and the best of the best.
  • We need to compete successfully to get a job.

All of these reinforce success and avoidance of failure.

Studying failure

Columbia University’s Teacher’s College is studying failure through its research centre. The research centre is helping students understand that failure is a normal part of learning that leads to success.  This 2016 study, of 400+ grade 9 and 10 students, found that students thought they needed to have a natural ability to be successful. This thinking is a problem for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics because they would give up and drop out if they struggled in class or failed a test.

The researchers normalized failure by sharing stories about the struggles inventors and scientists faced before they succeeded. As as result of hearing the stories, science grades improved. Marks dropped for students that only learned about success .  The takeaway from this study is that failure is normal when you are learning or doing something new, and it is important to understand, learn where you failed, and do better the next time.

Reframing failure

Make peace with failure and move on.  You might need to feel bad about it in order to make peace with it, but don’t let it drag on, find a way to get the discouragement out of your head. Vent, journal or do what helps you clear you head and gain perspective.  Consider what happened, what you learned, and what you would do differently next time.

Taking action will help you move on. It will also help keep you from rolling it over and over in your mind.  Re-frame it as a learning and growing opportunity.

It’s a bad idea. Knowing when it is a bad idea is important so that you don’t waste time or money on it. Test out the idea, look at it from different angles, read up on it, check if it has been done before, talk to experts, learn from the mistakes of others. Take small steps to get some small wins, build confidence, and move towards your goal. 

Develop a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, a psychologist and author talks about a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.

  • The fixed mindset sees talents and abilities as things we’re born with, so when we fail, it becomes a reflection of who we are. 
  • The growth mindset is where we keep learning.  Dweck’s research found that those with a growth mindset achieve more over the long term.

Continuously Improve.Learn from industry, manufacturing, and health. These sectors have taken the lead to promote a culture of safety by learning from their failures to improve products and outcomes. They’ve re-framed failure as quality improvement.

  • The airline industry is a great example of learning from failure. When an airplane crashes, there is a thorough analysis that goes into identifying and learning what caused the crash and preventing future crashes. This analysis requires openness, patience, curiosity, and a tolerance for ambiguity. It has resulted in improved airline safety worldwide.
  • The car manufacturing industry focuses on quality management and continuous improvement, to make their cars safer.
  • Hospitals review deaths and adverse incidents to improve future outcomes by identifying the root cause and system issues involved.

Plan for roadblocks and barriers. Plan and manage your risk(s) when they arise to overcome roadblocks or barriers.

Celebrate wins .This will motivate you to keep going.

Focus on what you can control. Take action to improve the things you can.

Takeaways

Success and failure are a part of a continuum. The same qualities that causes someone to be successful can cause them to fail.

Industry is leading the way to learn from failure. They are re-framing failures as opportunities to improve safety and outcomes.

We can learn from industry to normalize failure, to use it to improve what we are doing, and see it as a step closer to success.  

What about you? What will most help you get back on track after a failure or setback?

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Relationship Capital and Influence

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on unsplash

What is it and how does it work?

I was listening to an interview, and the term relationship capital came up. It was explained as the opportunities that present themselves in the relationship without ulterior motives attached to the relationship, 

and,

It is the network that helps you navigate the corporate culture, understand your shortcomings, and pushes for your success. Ultimately these relationships lead to a goal of some kind, for example wealth, prosperity or success.

For me, relationship capital means building solid relationships that has led to big results. I have worked with my colleague friends on contentious issues and come out with great solutions that make the organization look good.

I remember going into an interview and being asked about how I managed stakeholders and built relationships.  I was floored, not because I couldn’t answer the question, but because someone was asking it. To me it seemed like something you learned when you were growing up-like how do you make friends and keep them? I mentioned simple things like speaking face to face, or by phone, developing personal connections and following up with them after meetings if they didn’t attend, etc. The interviewers found these strategies great, they nodded and seemed to get excited. I realized at that point that building and nurturing relationships was a skill, and maybe some people just don’t have it, or they have poor skills resulting in financial losses, damage to organizational image, or loss of trust.  The road to building good relationship capital requires consistency of effort and character over time.

All of this to say that building relationships and nurturing them in work and in your personal life is not intuitive or natural to some people. There are lots of courses to learn how to build good relationships to prove it.

Do’s and don’ts of building a relationship

Do’s

Stakeholders, clients, family, friends, require us to pay attention to the relationship. Building these relationships takes time and effort and if it is genuine then a strong bond can form. Relationships flourish when they:

  • Involve mutual reciprocity or a mutual willingness to help and support one another
  • Respect the time needed to build trust and the relationship
  • Value integrity

Don’ts

Mistakes that people make in building relationships:

  • Premature asks (asking before there is a relationship)
  • Poor or no follow up
  • Being a champion in a way that does not fit with the organization’s brand ​

What strategies help to build relationship capital?

  1. Build trust. People love this idea, but it comes with a catch-it requires action.For example, if you say you will follow up, do so, be accountable and reliable. Be honest and ethical and you will gain respect and build trust.
  2. Communicate. I believe that most problems that arise in relationships are because of miscommunication. Just the other day, I was speaking with a colleague friend, and we agreed to a plan of action. Somehow the message got mangled, and I got a call from her boss asking for more information. If he hadn’t called me, it would have resulted in a lot of unnecessary work with possibly incorrect information. Luckily, I have a great working relationship with both, and it was easily resolved. I can call on any of my colleague friends, because I have developed a relationship with them, and they will help me, and I will do the same for them. These relationships have paved the way for many successful initiatives.
  3. Set boundaries. Let people know what the goals are and what is at stake. Let them know what is and isn’t possible and the rest is negotiable
  4. Let others know if you suspect a problem is coming. Those in charge don’t like surprises about projects if they are accountable-it puts them in the hot seat. If you suspect something might become a huge issue, let others know about it, so that it can be addressed. This also builds up the trust bank, when they know that you are in control of the situation.

Building relationships out of difficult circumstances:

How does it work when clients are difficult or resistant to change? Meet stakeholders/clients who are resistant to change.  This is hard to do because it can feel unpleasant, time consuming, and messy to come to a satisfactory solution.  However, if it is managed well it can be really satisfying!

I have learned is to expect resistance and plan for it with any change. The following has worked for me when I have experienced resistance:

  • Clearly identify the problem, I am trying to solve.
  • Clearly state the goal.
  • Provide foundational information to ensure that everyone has the same basic understanding and context about why this is important.
  • Identify and get agreement on basic principles. These are the basis for how agreement on decisions can proceed. For example, a principle might be, “Safety is important.” When disagreement happens, go back to see how the suggestion aligns with the principles.
  • Identify negotiables and non negotiables to find common ground.
  • Listen to feedback and concerns. This provides valuable information on obstacles to implementing your plan.
  • Explain the decision. People will want to know what the decision is based on, and whether their feedback was considered. Not all feedback can be used, and it needs to be weighed carefully along with the overall goals, principles, etc.  Honest discussions that are respectful work best in this situation.
  • Have a respectful discussion, they should never be personal or aggressive. Rules of engagement may need to be used if discussions are contentious, heated or get out of control. Stop the discussion and remind people about appropriate behaviour and comments. If that doesn’t work, stop the discussion entirely and have it another time.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.

Developing good relationships is a lifelong process that will enrich your personal and professional life.  

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Mind your Mind

You’ve probably seen something like this floating around the internet.

I really like this visual because it is a reminder that our brain really is like a computer. We program and controlit by what we put into our head (thoughts, feelings, emotions, and beliefs).

What comes out of us (our actions) is a result of what we put in (programing).

To get new results, we must, alter our programing.

Delete the negative junk we are putting in our head. Then rewire with new programming.

Get Organized to Improve Credibility and Reduce Stress

Photo by Serpstat from Pexels

Organizing things is one of my ways of coping with stress and it is how I remain productive.

  • Organization and time management skills are life skills that can be developed and maintained.  In this study, 67% of high school teachers surveyed, viewed having organizational skills as critical to student success. The same principles that prepare for student success can be applied to work and personal success. Realistic time management and organization skills can improve productivity and the quality of your life.
  • On the other hand, disorganization can lead to a negative impression about your abilities, competence, reliability and credibility.

Factors that Lead to Disorganization

Disorganization may be a result of procrastination, attachment to things, or lack of skills. Those who want to develop or improve their organizational skills, may need to change their mindset and their expectations.  Before people make a change, they need to have a reason to change, and this means a mindset shift. Think about trying to lose weight, eat healthy, or have a fitness regime, etc., first you need to be committed to doing it, and then you need to follow through. Unless you accept that it is a process and will take time, you may become discouraged. For some, getting organized may sound good for about a day until your mind goes back to, its too hard, too much work or it takes too long. You may start to feel guilty, give up and end up back at disorganized and overwhelmed.

Disorganization may be due to a mental health condition. Depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), hoarding and other mental health issues can make it difficult to develop and maintain an organized environment. If this is the case, then it is important to get professional help. Get a diagnosis from a professional in the mental health field and appropriate support like, medication, therapy, coaching, organizing, education, etc.

Ditch the Guilt and Stress

Do only what is comfortable for you to do and manage. Take small steps that you can do consistently over time. Ask for help.

Common Elements

I sifted through information and advice on this topic to find the common elements. The good news is that the basic components of organization and time management are the same for work and for your personal life. They are:

Priorities

  • Prioritize your activities for the day, week and month. Some of them may be able to be automated and some may become habits. According to a study from Duke University, around 45% of our everyday actions are made up of habits.
  • Do the urgent and high importance tasks first. Some things may be urgent but not important, so learn the difference.
  • Write down your bigger goals (life goals). Then break them down into manageable pieces.

Planning:

  • Bigger or more complicated projects requires some thought and preparation. Break large projects into manageable pieces. Delegate whenever possible.
  • Build in a back up plan. Think through “what if” scenarios. This will help avoid being late on projects or not having enough money or other resources.
  • Poor planning will create additional stress and cause you to go back to either refinancing, removing some aspects of the project to complete it or be on budget, or negotiating for more time to complete the project.
  • Ask for someone else to review your plan.

Process:

  • For Work: These are activities that can be automated, like automatic calendar reminders for meetings or appointments, or templates and processes for activities that come up frequently.
  • Personal: Tasks that can be automated or delegated, like organizing your house. For example, having bins for mitts, or hats, a place to put your keys, a grocery list that everyone can write down what is needed, or paying your bills automatically by setting up an account.  
  • Work and Personal: Block off time to do the important things that need some thinking or do-not-disturb time. Some online calendars have features that allow you to show that you do not want to be disturbed. If you are at home and don’t want to be disturbed turn off your phone or put it on do not disturb. This feature will allow only certain calls to come through. Tell those around you that you do not want to be disturbed. Lock your office door.
  • If you have children that need watching ask a friend, neighbor, parent to babysit for a few hours to complete your work.
  • Designate a time to review email. This way you won’t be distracted by incoming emails.
  • Don’t multitask, it is too easy to get distracted.

Making the Change

Making a change is hard, you have to be intentional about the change and fight the stumbling blocks that come up to block your progress, such as procrastination and perfectionism.

Decide what you would like to organize, then:

  • Take a small step-a micro step. According to B.J. Fogg, Director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford, and author of “Tiny Habits, The Small Changes that Change Everything,” it means making the change as small as you can. To create a new habit, simplify the behavior, make it a tiny behavior that is easy and fast to do.
  • Apply the change consistently, it means doing the same steps repeatedly (daily) until they become habits.
  • Organizing one area of your life can lead to organizing other areas of your life. This will make you more productive and increase your confidence.

Project Killers

  • Procrastination: If you keep stalling a project then the project isn’t important to you. If you want to hang on to it, start taking micro steps. If it is important, and you keep stalling, someone else should take over.
  • Perfection. Some people will fiddle with a project to make it perfect. It will never be perfect; it should be a quality job and never sloppy.

Takeaways

Some of my favourite organizational tools:

  • For work: I love mind mapping because it helps me see the whole picture, organize components and see relationships all at once. It makes the mess a message.
  • For my personal life: My phone is my organizer. I use notes, voice memos, camera and calendar features to keep me organized, remind me of meetings and on-the-run notes or memos. I use the camera on my phone to take pictures of where I parked (parking level, parking number, landscaping ideas, etc.)

Good organizational skills matter because they:

  • Help you become a problem solver, something that the world is looking for.
  • Help you be more efficient, productive and successful.
  • Help you achieve your goals faster.
  • Help other have more confidence in our abilities.

For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned

Benjamin Franklin

Successful Leadership Problem Solving

Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

Good leaders have a problem solving mindset which makes them so effective, have better control of their lives, and have more success.

Successful problem solving happens when you are clear about what your problem is. Correctly identifying a problem is critical to solving it.

  • It sounds so basic, but some problems are not easy to identify, which makes it more difficult to solve them.
  • Sometimes people have a solution, before they understand what the problem is. 
  • Sometimes the problem is so complicated that layers must be peeled away before you can get at the root cause.
  • It is a trap if you think that defining the problem is easy. In all my years as a policy analyst, defining the problem is the most difficult part of policy work because you need to get to the root of the issue. If you can’t identify the problem, you won’t be able to fix it, or move on.  

Problem Solving Steps

The problem-solving process is the same no matter what the problem is:

  1. Identify the problem(s): It may help to talk it out with someone. 
  2. Gather information: interviews/talking with others, research, data, internet reviews, annual reports, other reports, minutes, etc.
  3. Analyze your information: Use the information gathered from step two and begin analyzing and synthesizing the information.This includes identifying options or choices and what to consider before you make your best choice. Often step 2 and 3 go together.
  4. Put together an action plan: What are the steps you need to take to make it happen?
  5. Review what you learned:  Once you have implemented your plan, you may want to review the process, (immediately, so you can document what worked and what didn’t at various intervals, 6 months, 1 year, etc.)

Example:  Having a difficult conversation

The Context

A golf trip is being planned by a group of golfers once travel opens from COVID. Some golfers are concerned that not everyone is immunized or will be before the golf trip. The immunized golfers are hesitant about having non-immunized golfers join them, but are afraid to raise it for fear of offending the non-immunized golfers. They are also afraid that by socializing with the non-immunized golfers, they could potentially infect their close family members once they return home from the trip. (Partners were not invited).

Identify the Problem:

Do I have this difficult conversation about what to do about the immunization issue, or do I let it go?

It may be helpful to talk it out with others to clarify the problem. 

Information Gathering and Analysis:

Identify concerns of the golf group both immunized and non-immunized. 

Identify what is non-negotiable.

Identify logistics of lodging, meals, golfing, local rules and requirements, etc.

Find out what the safety risks and requirements are for the immunized and non-immunized, including risks to family members. Many of the golfers have family members with chronic and respiratory illnesses that could put their health at risk.

What are the requirements if someone gets the virus? What is the impact to the group? If quarantine is necessary, are there other arrangements that need to be made?

What happens if someone is hospitalized with COVID or becomes ill? Would someone have to stay with them until they were better?  How will that situation be managed? Would medical insurance cover them? Will someone from the family be able travel to be with their sick family member? 

All these items need to be thought out and planned for.

Action Plan:

Plan for the difficult conversation. Identify how and when to have the difficult conversation. Plan what to say and how to say it:

The leader of the golf trip started the conversation by admitting to his non-immunized friends that this was going to be a difficult conversation and that he was taking a risk with the friendships by doing so. He indicated that his safety and the safety of his family was the most important thing to him.

He acknowledged that his friends had a right to choose not to be immunized. He also acknowledged that as the leader of the event, he had a right to protect his family and others on the trip. He mentioned that others were concerned about how this would affect them and their families.

The leader laid out all the information he gathered and all the questions that needed to be answered. As they began discussing the issue in a calm and rationale manner, it became clear that the non-immunized golfers had not considered all the “what if’s” and had more to think about. The non-immunized golfers went away to consider the discussion and the potential scenarios.

They had a follow up discussion a week later and the non-immunized golfers decided that vaccination was the best option for them and their families. (They had been thinking about getting vaccinated, and the questions raised made them do their own research and reach this decision-no strong arming was involved).

The discussion ended with a temperature check on the relationships. The leader asked how the non-immunized golfers felt about the issue, discussion and relationship. The response was: “All is good.”

Learnings:

Leaders don’t step away from a difficult conversation but find ways to manage it. This real-life example is relevant because difficult conversations happen in the work environment and in a personal environment.

It was an awkward situation and an uncomfortable discussion that brought out all the issues into the open and “cleared the air”. They were fully discussed so that everyone could move on.

Thoughtful problem solving played a key role.

Having a difficult conversation can be productive, calm, rationale and without drama. 

Fully displays leadership skills and character traits such as communication, integrity, honesty and compassion.

Takeaway

This is an example of excellence in leadership problem solving: All of us will run into messy people problems based on emotions, principles, or politics. Most people want to run away from these kinds of conversations, it is an act of courage to face the problem directly.

  • This method of problem solving is a time-tested process that works no matter what the problem is.  
  • Sometimes as a leader you have to do the hard thing. Do it as compassionately as you can.
  • This also serves as an example of how to have a difficult conversation, whether in your work life or in your personal life.
  • Every decision you make has a consequence, be ready for the consequences.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. Quote Master

A Leadership and Life Skill: Decision Making

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.

Theodore Roosevelt

Have you ever met a person who couldn’t or wouldn’t make a decision? How did it feel?  For me, someone else’s indecision is frustrating because there is nothing, I can do about it – it is beyond my control.

I had a boss who was afraid to make decisions and to give direction consistently. It was frustrating.  I used to mutter under my breath, “just make a decision.”  I wanted to make the decision for him. I wanted his boss to make the decision for him. I just wanted somebody to make a decision!! The inability to make a decision meant that my work and work of others was delayed and this created more last minute stress to get the work done to meet deadlines.  

Usually, I am pretty good at decision making and I have been told by my family that sometimes I make too many decisions that they then have to implement!  However, there have been some decisions that I have had a tough time making. What if there is no best choice? Then the decision becomes harder to make. What to do?  At some point you have to make a decision, or it will be made for you. Just make a choice and follow it though, you can make it right. You will learn from the tough decisions.

Making decisions is a necessary life skill. Everyone has to make hundreds and thousands of decisions in day, at home, at school, at work, with friends and in the community. Making decisions should start a childhood, babyhood even. Simple decisions that build to more complicated decisions. For some it is easy, for others it is paralyzing.  I share some of my tips on decision making in the takeaway section.

Cornell University research shows that the average adult makes “about 35,000 decisions each day, children make about 3000 per day.” Interestingly, an average of 226 decisions are about food. We should be really good at making decisions after one day!

Getting good at decision making helps us cope with anxiety, it empowers us, builds self reliance and self confidence. On the other hand, if you don’t have good decision-making skills you will be more anxious, dependent on others and lack self confidence.

Making a good decision takes mental energy, so save your hard decision making for when you are at your peak mentally and emotionally. A study, of prisoners who appeared early in the morning before a judge received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared before the same judge late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time that’s because the judge succumbed to decision fatigue.

Learning from your decisions good or bad

How do you get good at decision making? Good leaders will learn from their mistakes, failures and successes. They will analyze their decisions; what worked and why, and what didn’t work and why.

In most cases a poor decision can be changed to a better one with time and effort. Reviewing your decision doesn’t usually require hours of thought, it is a simple exercise that takes minutes. Writing down your analysis will help and serve as a resource in the future, but it doesn’t even need to be written down. It helps when you face a similar situation, you can apply your learning to it. When you make a great decision, it is empowering and confidence building. For those not used to decision making, it will give you a rush when your decision turned out the way you hoped it would. That success will help you to make more and better decisions.

Families, businesses, friends depend on making decisions. Leaders get good at making decisions because they must make so many and mostly they make more good ones than regrettable ones. They have overcome issues like, fear of the unknown, the paralysis of too many choices/ information overload, procrastination and trusting their instincts.  Why? Because they have taken the time to learn from their decisions and they haven’t let the fear of decision making stop them from making a decision.

Managing your decision making process

  1. Accept that making a decision means you have to make a choice, you will need to choose one thing over another, you can’t have it all. Make a choice.
  2. More thinking is not always better thinking. Get enough information to make your best choice, so that you are not making an impulsive or an emotional decision. Listen to your intuition- then choose.
  3. Don’t defer decisions endlessly. When you don’t choose someone else will choose for you and you are stuck with their decision and the consequences of your indecision. Be in charge of your own life, make a decision.
  4. Some decisions don’t work out as expected; this doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong or made a bad decision. Sometimes life happens and the unexpected happens. It’s OK, you can still make the decision work for you.

Takeaway

When I get stuck about a decision:

  1. I talk it out with someone; it helps to bounce ideas around and helps me see things in a different way.  
  2. Sometimes I make chart and look at the pros and cons.
  3. Sometimes I do some mind mapping (this is my favorite way of thinking, organizing and making a decision) for more difficult or complicated decisions.
  4. After the decision is made and with really tough or complicated decisions, I take the time to review what happened, what worked well and what didn’t, and what I would change. I used this same process with my kids when they made a decision that was a tough one or had a bad day at school or when they had trouble with a friend; What did you learn from this? Would you change anything?
  5. I take a break from thinking about it and do something else that fully occupies my time, listen to music, go for a walk, exercise, gardening, etc.  Once my mind has had a break the answer will come.

Decision making is such an important skill that those who don’t get good at it will get passed over and end up living someone else’s life. Don’t let the fear of decision making be your boss.

Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the decision right.

Phil McGraw