Failure…and Restoration

December 2012, by So-Young Kang

As the year rapidly approaches the end, it is often a good time to reflect back on the prior year. I find myself asking questions such as:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What could I have done better?
  • What have I learned?

As I reflect on the last question, I wanted to share a few things I have learned about myself, failure and the challenge of leadership in the hopes that you will take a few moments to ask yourself what you take away from 2012.

Lesson #1: Never stop focusing on what you hold most dear and valuable. You are always moving – either forwards or backwards – so don’t be complacent even when you feel you ‘got’ it. For me, being in integrity with my values is of utmost importance to me. This is a life-long continuous journey that requires conscious work and choice. I will not just achieve it one day and then move on to the next thing on my list. It’s when I feel “I’m good” and get complacent when I make the biggest mistakes and unintentionally hurt someone or act inconsistently.

Lesson #2: Everything you do from a position of leadership is magnified – both the good and the bad. What was acceptable behavior as an employee is often, not acceptable as the leader of a team, company or nation. As leaders, we are held to a much higher bar than those around us. The words we speak carry weight. Those around us are watching the small actions and decisions we make and are constantly interpreting and making meaning from them – whether we intended it or not.

Lesson #3: Bigger is not always better. Often times, it’s the smallest of gestures or words that have the greatest impact on those around us. One kind word in a time of need, an acknowledgement for job well done, a smile of acceptance, or an email to say thank you can often mean much more than a large public gesture. In our zeal to do ‘bigger’ things (e.g., build a company which will pay your staff more, design new ways to develop staff), let’s not forget about the small things.

Lesson #4: Have the courage to be wrong. It’s ok to make mistakes. In fact, it’s authentic and real. As leaders, we often put tremendous pressure on ourselves to be ‘right’ all the time. We need to make the ‘right’ decisions, ‘right’ investments, ‘right’ hires, and behave in the ‘right’ way and the list goes on. Let’s be honest. Sometimes we are wrong. We don’t always behave in the ‘right’ way. I know I have not always said things in the kindest way. At times, I have been too critical. In my passion, I have been too strong that I couldn’t hear better ideas that others may have had. There are times I have fallen short of who I would like to be and when this happens, can I have the humility to accept the unintended impacted of my actions and then have the courage to say “I’m sorry”? Can I have the will to not do it again or work on it?

Lesson #5: Knowing when and how to ask for help is just as important as knowing that you need help. Sometimes I admit that I feel the weight of the company is solely on my shoulders. Our success and failure is on me. In some sense, this is accurate. But I believe it’s a limited way of seeing things. It’s when I actively ask where I need help and then engage others around me (e.g., employees, partners, friends) that I can be at my best and when others can be at theirs. Asking for help is a powerful tool that is often underutilized.

I have made some conscious choices on what to focus on based on my own failures and lessons learned. As we close out this year and continue on our life journeys, I hope and pray that you make the time to reflect on your lessons, especially the failures and mistakes. While these can hurt the most, they are often where we learn the most. The great news is that the new year is coming and we can start afresh..and be restored.

Happy Holidays and have a Blessed and Joyful New Year!