It’s surprising where you get your leadership lessons from isn’t it?
Last December my husband and I escaped to Amsterdam for the weekend to celebrate our anniversary. The purpose being to relax and have fun (and not to rush around sight-seeing which I am guilty of on City Breaks.) The compromise was that there was only two places that we really wanted to visit. The Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank’s Secret Annexe.
Both places taught me a lot – but it was during the visit to the Van Gogh Museum that I started to think about how failure (or rather how we deal with it) and how it features so heavily in the lives of so many leaders.
As I was walking round I noticed the newly discovered Van Gogh painting called Sunset at Montmajour. This painting spent years in an attic of a Norwegian art collector and it took a long time to prove that it was indeed a genuine Van Gogh. It was eventually authenticated by letters written by Van Gogh, the style of the painting and the materials that were used.
Although in itself this painting was a remarkable discovery it was the fact that Van Gogh had deemed this painting a failure that struck a chord with me, as he didn’t achieve what he really wanted to with this piece of work.
To the un-trained eye (believe me I know absolutely nothing about art) the painting was beautiful. It was actually my favourite painting in the museum and I certainly did not think it was a failure. But it did make me think that the one thing we can be sure of is that sooner or later we will encounter that feeling of failure.
It might be the fear of failure that holds us back. For leaders, this is a fear that can be quite crippling. It might stop us from having a go because we might get it wrong. It might stop us from trying in case we make a mistake, stop us from finishing in case it’s not right, or stop us from putting ourselves out there in case we’re not good enough. Either way…it stops us!
Or, it might be the failure we encounter when something, despite our best efforts, doesn’t go according to plan, and we suddenly find ourselves faced with a worst case scenario either in reality, or just in our own perception of how something has turned out.
Either way, it’s how we react to these failures and fears that are the true test. Resilience for leaders is an essential skill. Even when all we want to do is pack up and head for the hills we must persevere and try again. Find new ways to do things, do better next time and use our failure stories to teach others along the way.
So, rather than get caught up in failure let’s keep going anyway…because who knows your idea of failure might be someone else’s masterpiece.