Taking Responsibility for Failure

Steve Jobs was a great entrepreneur who made a huge impact on society. He changed human communication globally and ushered in a new technological wave. People often refer to his reality distortion field (RDF) when describing his work style and discussing why he was able to achieve such great success. Steve had vision and translated it into successful products. He did what most entrepreneurs aim to do, but at a larger-than-life level.

Entrepreneurs are innovators. Part of innovating is figuring out how to make the impossible possible and convincing others to believe. In some instances it works out. In others it doesn’t. When it works out it’s joyous and amazing. When it doesn’t, it can be crushing, and this is when  it’s more important than ever for entrepreneurs to step up. The team needs it.

I’m not Steve Jobs, but I’ve had my RDF moments. I had a vision for my company, but there were huge obstacles. I convinced our team we could figure out how to push through them. I give them credit for believing and supporting me. Unfortunately, some of those obstacles were insurmountable and we failed. I failed because I underestimated the challenge.

Acknowledging these failures and taking ownership as the leader were some of my biggest learning moments. It was painful and something I hated doing, but I did it anyway. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was invaluable. By acknowledging my shortcomings, I showed the team that it was OK to not be right all the time. I noticed that when I opened up about what I missed or got wrong, others chimed in with what they’d learned from the experience. It started a reflective team conversation. I view reflection as critical to gaining wisdom.

I also apologized for my shortcomings. My team put so much into these efforts that it was devastating when they didn’t pan out. The apology acknowledged their efforts but also helped us move past the experience as a team. Apologies are simple, but they can be powerful. They can quickly remove the tension from situations.

If you’re working with others on something and it doesn’t go well, consider acknowledging your part in the failure. It’s likely to be painful but also an amazing growth and bonding opportunity!