Overcoming Failure in Your Career A Model for Acknowledging and Moving Forward

This blog post is part of the 2016 Next Top Credit Union Executive competition originally posted October 14, 2016.

Failure is such a big word and has multiple underpinnings. Stigma, shame, fault, hopeless, disconnection, blame, financial worries, relationship breakdowns, loss of hope, and crushed dreams are a few that come to mind. I’ve had failures in my career, two significantly substantial ones, that forced me into deep reflection and led me to ask myself these questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I offer?
  3. What is my vision of a perfect day?
  4. What kinds of conversations excite me and with what types of people?
  5. How can I and how do I need to add value?

The journey of knowing who I am and who I am becoming began at the age of 16 and deepens at every turn. Someday, I’ll share more of the story of my senior year of high school. Today, however, question 5 is important in this context: “How can I and how do I need to add value?” The foundation of this question is dignity. It is beneficial when we determine how to use our unique leadership presence and expertise to add value for the sake of serving others.

Many of the career failures I hear about in leadership-coaching or recruitment conversations occur due to one or all three of the following reasons: the vision of the role outweighed the ability of the candidate to perform as a leader, the incoming new hire assumed their perspective of culture is your culture and the reality check was left in the parking lot, or there was a serious misread of the candidate’s ability to perform as a leader with competent expertise.

The requirement for leaders to be effective is a strong requisite that can no longer be ignored. Being in that defining moment of failure is a poignant moment in career shaping. Something happened wherein you did not perform to the expectations of others. Take a couple of days to allow yourself to feel the failure in your body, and be sad, disappointed, and maybe angry, all of which are natural emotions related to grieving. If you still have a job, be mindful of your mood in the workplace. If you find yourself without employment, be aware of how your mood impacts your home and family. On the third day, intentionally shift to a generative reflection process.

  1. What did you assume that was not true? How did that happen?
  2. What was your biggest blind spot?
  3. What would you do over?
  4. What did you learn about yourself?
  5. Knowing what you now know, what is your true value proposition?
  6. What conversation do you need to be in and with whom?
  7. What are the circumstances in which you can add the greatest value and retain your dignity?

Notice that none of these questions are directed toward your manager. Yes, it takes two to be in a relationship, and as a leader, this defining moment is your learning moment.

The AIRS Model for Recommitment in Action

  • Courageously acknowledge the issue and demonstrate awareness and appreciation for the breakdown that an important issue exists.
  • Share that you realize the negative impact on the team (project) your actions over a long-term basis.
  • Take responsibility. State your accountability and the contribution for the issue, action, and omission.
  • Provide a solution through recommitment to the project, team, or your development and learning. Identify a problem-solving action and resolve to rebuild trust or withdraw from the commitment with dignity.

The AIRS Model is relevant if you stay on the job or withdraw, voluntarily or involuntarily, to rebuilding trust and dignity, aligning your leadership presence and competence with a need and adding value every day. Be true in your self-assessment, and the path forward will be rich in opportunities to add value in meaningful ways.

Deedee Myers, Ph.D., MSC, PCC
DDJ Myers, Ltd.