How Do You Handle Failure?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Lead people for any length of time and you’re bound to fail.

I know there’s a lot of Type A’s out there who are convinced they never fail, but I assure you, if you’ve been leading for more than 5 minutes you have failed! So all you high achievers, you who’ve been number one at everything since you were a fetus, this post is especially for you.

Early in my military career I learned the secret to surviving failure, even an epic one, could be summed up simply.  As is often the case, the secret to keeping yourself out of the psych ward after a failure is expressed in a cute little acronym: FIDO.  FIDO stands for Forget It And Drive On, and is a reminder not to be paralyzed by fear or embarrassment.  For most people failure will be a setback at best and a debilitating event at worst.  FIDO is the way successful people overcome their failures and roadblocks to find their way in life.

Olympian Ruben Gonzalez 1Lt Clebe McClary, USMCFIDO is hero Marine 1Lt Clebe McClary’s personal motto.  After he was grievously wounded in Vietnam, McClary decided he had to “drive on” and not let his injuries define him.  I was privileged to hear Lieutenant McClary speak when I was a young officer and it made a big impression on me.  My friend and 4-time Olympian Ruben Gonzalez started training for his first Olympics at age 21, the age many Olympic athletes retire. Not taking “no” for an answer, Ruben made the Argentine Olympic team, achieved an international “Top 50” ranking, and competed in four Olympic Games.  Motivational speaker Jennifer Webb has even written a book about FIDO.For high achievers or “high drive” leaders, sometimes even the fear of failure is enough to induce strange and out-of-character behavior.

The difference between a man who fails 10,000 times before succeeding and a man who fails once and is a wreck for the rest of his life is perspective and balance.  You see, “FIDO” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about failure; FIDO means you learn from your mistakes and put on your big boy pants then get on with the mission.  It means keeping your head up when things go wrong.  A “FIDO person” may never achieve what he originally intended because of a failure, but a FIDO person will find new goals to achieve and move out in that direction.

Not everyone takes failure so well.  I’ve seen leaders fail and refuse help from others believing they were “done.”  I’ve watched leaders refuse to take stock and evaluate their own performance, instead deflecting blame for their failures on others.  There are even those I’ve worked with over the years who are so paralyzed by the idea of making a career-ending mistake they become unable to make any decision at all.  Worse still is the “Type A” who is on the rise through the ranks who become an impediment to getting work done through an almost manic need to control everything.

The reality is failure is common and a part of the atmosphere of leadership. Any leader worth their salt has to be able to “take a metaphorical punch,” learn, and then “drive on.”  Both the fear of failure and wallowing in that failure are counter-productive.  Leaders are human with the same emotions and self-doubt every other human possesses.  The difference between high achievers and the rest of us mortals is how they deal with failure.

The lesson is this: don’t let failure or the fear of it define who you are. No matter what happens take stock, learn, then FIDO.

Rule #4: “’Can’t’ Never Gets Anything Done”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules

My Dad taught me a number of really great sayings, but among the best he ever taught me was “’Can’t’” never gets anything done. Keep it out of your vocabulary.”  Actually, the exact words he used were,  “Can’t” never could do anything.


You see, Dad always believed that if you try hard enough, work hard enough and never give up, you can succeed.  Through his encouragement, I came to believe it, too.

Now neither I nor my father believe that anything is possible. Some things are plainly beyond reach because of limitations in talent, or opportunity, or for some other reason.  But history is replete with stories of people who meet with disaster and defeat, but never gave up and ultimately achieved their goals.

Take the story of Thomas Edison.  He failed making the lightbulb over 100 times before he finally succeeded. His quote, that he’d succeeded in finding over 100 ways not to build a lightbulb is fairly well known.  But despite the cliche of “try, try, again” the fact remains that Edison truly believed that electric lights were not only possible, but inevitable. We owe him for a wholesale change in our way of life.

Or how about the story of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner?  Warner went undrafted in 1994, then tried out for the Packers only to be cut before the season began.  He went to work sacking groceries for minimum wage until the next year when he made an Arena football team and played several seasons in that league, and the European league, before being given a shot at the NFL.  He went on to a successful NFL career, winning Super Bowl XXXIV and being named league MVP for the 1999 season.  Warner believed in himself, and worked hard in order to gain success.  I doubt if the word “can’t” is even in his vocabulary.

Growing up, Dad made sure we learned the “never give up lesson”, and it paid off time and time again.  In Little League, I never expected to make the “Majors” my first year in…but I sure did my second year.  When I was relegated to the “Texas” league the second year in a row, I was disappointed.  Dad wouldn’t let me give up, though.  “Hang in there,” he said, “just do your best and it will all work out.” During my first week of practice, it was plain to me that I was much better than most of my teammates.    I worked out with that team for about a week before I got “the call” from a Major League coach!  He told me about my new team, and that it was my attitude that had prompted him to call me up.  Despite having a terrible tryout, despite being out of sight on my Texas league team, I was getting “the call” for my stick-to-it positive attitude.

Now, no one can promise success. Like most, I’ve had my share of failure, but it’s my view that  true success comes as much from now you handle adversity, as how you handle the win.