When you’re a perfectionist or achievement orientated one of the most difficult things to consistently and authentically do is to be vulnerable and transparent about mistakes and failures.
It takes a lot of courage to be authentically vulnerable with your team and the people you care about. Many of us worry about what people will think of us, but when we’re transparent about our mistakes and failures we have the opportunity to truly learn from them. Additionally, I know that authentic vulnerability also builds trust.
This is part 3 of the 5-part series on Leadership Resilience by Diana Gabriel, Certified Strengths Strategy Coach.It’s almost impossible to learn from our mistakes if we’re caught up in the blame game. Click To Tweet
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Failure is perceived to be one of life’s most common traumas, yet people’s responses to it vary widely. Many leaders have learned to reframe personal and departmental setbacks by stating: “There are no mistakes, only learning opportunities.” It’s a great sentiment—in practice, however, their organizations often continue to view failures in the most negative light. Because of this many leaders are not forthcoming with their own failures, often feeling shame and avoid talking or thinking about it. This makes it very difficult for people reporting to them to be open and vulnerable with them regarding the mistakes or failures they may have experienced.
Part of the problem lies in our natural tendency to feel shame and blame others for our mistakes or failures. We perceive and react to failure inaptly. How can we learn anything if our energy is tied up in either avoiding transparency or assigning blame? Still, others overreact with self-criticism, which internally leads to stagnation and fear of taking future risks.
One of the common themes that frequently come up in my coaching sessions is dealing with mistakes and failures with vulnerability and transparency. Reducing the excessive blame that happens in the workplace and taking ownership of their humanity and their mistakes.
In the 1930s, psychologist Saul Rosenzweig proposed three broad personality categories for how we experience anger and frustration:
Prone to unfairly blame others
Denies that failure has occurred or one’s own role in it
Judges self too harshly and imagines failures where none exist
Extrapunitive responses are common in the business world. Because of socialization and other gender influences, women tend to be intropunitive.
Fortunately, leaders at all organizational levels can repair their flawed mindsets and responses to failure. Business consultants Ben Dattner and Robert Hogan suggest several highly effective steps in “Can You Handle Failure?” (Harvard Business Review, April 2011):
First, identify which of the three blaming styles you use. (Note: They occur automatically and immediately, so they are subconscious emotional responses.)
- Do you look to blame others?
- Do you deny blame?
- Do you blame yourself?
It’s hard for us to see our own personalities clearly, let alone our flaws. It’s almost impossible to learn from our mistakes if we’re caught up in the blame game.
Work with a coach or mentor to improve your level of self-awareness and comfort with being vulnerable and transparent. While it takes some time to shine a light on our mindset with respect to failure and blame, each of you can benefit from such reflection, discussion, and honest feedback.
For example, think about challenging events or failures in your career, and consider how you handled them. What could you have done differently that would have changed the outcome? Ask trusted colleagues, mentors or coaches to evaluate your reactions to, and explanations for, failures.
Pay close attention to the subtleties of how people respond to you in common workplace situations. Ask for informal feedback. If you’re in a leadership position, you may underestimate how what you say may be perceived as criticism, due to the hierarchical nature of your job.
What is your experience and comfort level with being vulnerable and transparent with your mistakes and failures? What have you tried to improve in your self-awareness as a leader? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment.