The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

Brilliant Failure

April 28, 2014

By Steve Kent, ECC Future Leader

Steve Kent
Future Business Development Executive…in motion, and a continual product of Brilliant Failure.

Of the many interests that I engage in to balance life, I often entertain this idea of writing a book. My mind jumps from topic to topic. I get caught up in an expansive list of my ‘brilliant’ ideas…those that I think others would actually read and benefit from. I’m convinced, at least for a moment, that my ideas, correctly structured, could be material for a best seller. Ideas abound. I think, ‘Life has provided me a unique path and [yes] I should definitely write something’. The problem then sets in prompting a question – is what I have to say really unique, or interesting, or tragic, or profound, or educational, or beneficial…or interesting at all? This blog entry is really no different. These thoughts occupy my mind now as I think through ‘interesting’ topics – even at this very moment… [Pause]

Then, an epiphany of sorts occurs. Gazing through the somewhat weathered window of an airplane, I recall, strangely, a TV commercial advertising a new pharmaceutical drug presumably for the treatment of fatigue. The tag line: ‘Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, and bodies in motion tend to stay in motion.’ Intriguing… (and oddly relevant to the plane on which I’m traveling…that is entirely suspended by the nothingness of invisible molecules). Anyway…

Future Leaders are selected and emerge as leaders because they are ‘in motion.’ Motion, in itself, is a trophy to be displayed. It says that you’ve prepared, you’ve worked hard, you’ve taken initiative, you’ve enjoyed victories…but most importantly, it says that you’ve endured and survived failure. Without failure, we are mediocre and inexperienced. Without failure, we are unable to face problems, make wise decisions, and take appropriate courses of action. Without an awareness of failure, it’s hard to understand its effect on us personally and professionally, and its important impact on those around us.

Failure is not a topic that we like to dwell on. Failure is unpopular. It’s hard to admit. Failure just plain sucks. We’ve all heard, and seen, and felt failure. So then, why is it so hard to embrace? In my personal ‘adventure’ to discover more about what makes me tick, and what keeps me in motion, despite [shhh] my failures, I am going to offer [brace yourself] ‘brilliant’ ideas on how to make failure work for you…keeping you on the forward, and upward, track.

Brilliant Idea #1: So What!

Failure happens. The difference in those who fail and stay down, and those who rise is ATTITUDE. My son is a pitcher for his High School baseball team. I’ve seen him grow from the agonizing t-ball years of field-borne chaos, under oversized hats and uniforms, to the athlete that he is today. [Yes, I’m a proud dad.] His transition of becoming a better player and pitcher came through the painful and embarrassing experiences of walking batters, hitting batters, nearly throwing the ball over multiple backstops, and, the numerous and seemingly eternal periods of time that it would take for the coach to call timeout and waaaallllkkkk to the mound to take him out of the game. Never fun. There have been many days where I’ve encouraged him to ‘keep his head in the game’ – no matter what happens. [Fast forward] Now, he’s a Junior. He made the local newspaper recently [complete with action photo] for pitching a shutout game against a divisional rival (with his Sophomore brother catching I might add). Did he make mistakes? Yes. Did he recover each time? Yes.

The bottom line here is: So What! We are all going to make mistakes. Admit it. Face it. Move on. This is what a leader does.

Brilliant Idea #2: Never Stop Learning.

Failure is a great teacher. Sounds cliché, right? Well, actually, there are many would-be future leaders who make the same mistakes over and over. They fail to move forward and upward. Why? These people, unfortunately feel that they’ve ‘arrived’. They’ve determined that they are far enough into their path that learning is a thing of the past – “now is the time to conquer.” Uh ok…some of the most famous ‘conquerors’ were those who faced failure, learned from it and made necessary changes. They learned from their failures. Reach inside, face your failures and learn from them. You’ll find yourself emerging ahead of a group of peers who’ve ‘already arrived’.

Brilliant Idea #3: Gracefully embrace other’s failure.

Don’t you love to point your finger…at least once in a while? Go ahead. Admit it. You love to highlight the failure of others while you bask in your [ughm] notable success. Ha! Well it is human nature that we’re dealing with here. Entire cultures, and families, and teams, and companies have failed due to this individual-centric mindset. The fact is that when we work collaboratively as teams, we can avoid many failures. Notice that I said ‘many’, not all. When team members fail, leaders support, embrace and engage gracefully in finding solutions. Leaders gracefully address real performance issues fairly. Gracious leaders succeed because they gain broad respect from teammates and from the organizations that they effectively influence toward success.

Challenge yourself to be gracious when dealing with another person’s failure. It may seem unnatural but it will enhance the perception of your character and the quality of your leadership abilities.

So now, you be the judge. Brilliant ideas? Not really. I will submit to you, however, that these time-proven principles often get lost in our pursuits toward success leaving us unable to fully realize our greatest potential, and the greatest potential of our companies.

Failure. Embrace it and find that it will continue to be a solid foundation for the Future Leader within you.

[Note: For those other volunteer bloggers who think they don’t have time…just in case you were wondering…yes, I did write this entire Blog on an airplane.]