A Series: Learning From My Epic Failures (Part 1)

Growth mindset Resilience Respect


Key Point: Why would I waste my many failures by keeping them to myself? Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my work and many accomplishments over the span of a 40+ year career. I will leave the evaluation of my success to the judgment of others, and the archives of history, if anyone is really interested. My failures, however, are mostly mine to share and expose. I wish my working career was a big “Facebook fairy tale” filled with one perfect picture after another, but you and I know that would be an incomplete description. I won’t bore you with my mundane failures. Instead, I will stick to several of my “epic” goof-ups, what I’ve learned from them, and what I might encourage you to do to avoid repeating. I must note that I hope you get the chance to create your own big screw ups. Like the phrase goes, “you only trip when you’re moving.”

Frankly, I may have been one of the fastest rising executives in a Fortune 50 company, ever. I started as a 38-year-old director in a division, and less than three years later, I was one of seven execs reporting directly to the CEO and Chairman. During my first career planning session with the CEO, he said to me, “it may be a little early to talk about you rising to my job, but we want to make sure you have all the right steps to get there.” I was head of World Wide Quality, lead facilitator of the global strategy, and coordinated all of my bosses meetings. I was “golden.”  Four years later, I left the company, burnt out and confused as to what the hell happened.

Of course, my view and assessment is only one perspective, and I’m sure other characters in this “play” might see otherwise. The punchline is that I believe I lost my way on the personal value I was providing my boss, and political naivety put me at odds with leaders who were much more powerful and skilled than I was. Because I had risen so quickly, I hadn’t established a loyal tribe and ended up being too dependent on my own insights to navigate. As the corporate leader of quality in the company, our biggest domestic division suffered material deterioration to customer service. While I wasn’t responsible for the action that caused it, I lacked the political strength and/or skills to countermeasure it. And my boss, the CEO, became disenchanted that people weren’t listening to my advice. The problem became bigger than me. The Japanese have a wonderful saying that in loose translation states, “better to button the shirt from the bottom up. If you start too close to the top, you might miss a button hole and have to start over again.” Hmm.

Personal Leadership Moves:

1. Remember that potential and past work means very little going forward. You have to constantly be reassessing the value you bring. Your boss has one vote and usually gets input from others. However, that’s a giant vote and if you aren’t helping your boss big time, loyalty will diminish. It can happen over night. Don’t be paranoid, and don’t be naive.

2. When you find yourself faced with one tough, big ass problem, don’t go at it alone. Do not act helpless either, and never point your finger elsewhere. Bring the stakeholders together as effectively and quickly as you can to move things forward. Don’t wait!

3. Remember that your career will have ups and downs. Very few of us get a free ride or catch the perfect wave time after time. Accepting this precept means that when things change, we put ourselves in a position to say: “Thank you… I can hardly wait to see what fate has in store for me next.”

Failing up in Personal Leadership,


One Millennial View: This is a great idea for a series. This reminds me of the Jocko Willink clip, “Good.” I’m not sure if I’ve shared this on the blog before, but, it’s always “good” for a refresher. This is a very eye-opening look at failure, and quite a kick-in-the-pants if you haven’t seen it yet: 

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis