Failure. One of the words you will seldom hear tripping off the tongue of managers or leaders. In fact, it’s amazing how infrequently it’s discussed, all things considered. Years and years of experience adds up to innumerable business lunches, networking events, and coffees with colleagues. Yet I can’t recall one single instance where someone admitted or discussed or even mentioned a professional failure. Ego perhaps being the truest enemy of honesty.
But any experienced professional has certainly dealt with failure at one time or another. After all, it’s how we learn best. And learning it is part of earning it, when it comes to building a successful and robust career.
I’ve been thinking a lot about failure recently. Small bumps in the road are simple enough to contend with; but the larger ones – the catastrophic ones – have a way of testing the very essence of who you are. Fight or flight; run away, or stand your ground; meet your responsibilities, or duck and cover; make the hard calls, or defer to affability; go down with the ship, or be the first one in a life raft. Every choice made is a testament to your professional integrity, and ultimately to your character. At times it seems that the world rewards the cowards. Ditch the sinking project, and leave everyone else holding the bag? Smart guy! But life is long, as are careers, and things have a way of coming around again, full circle.
Projects are risky. They can fail for a number of reasons, and failure rates are high. As a project manager, you never know when you’ll meet your match. Invariably, at some time or another, you will face a challenge that you cannot conquer – regardless of your skill set, your capabilities, your latest shiny version of PMBOK. How you cope with failure defines who you are. Sometimes professionalism demands that you stick around for the hard times; manage through them; have the difficult conversations; and take it on the chin. It’s about being a grown-up. It’s about dependability; maturity; and integrity.
At the end of the day, who would you want in charge? The guy or gal who runs for the door at the first sign of smoke; or someone who sees the trouble ahead, stands their ground, raises the alert, and takes charge of navigating the course ahead – for better or worse.