Go Ahead and Say It: “I Failed”

From the book It’s Not My Fault by Henry Cloud and John Townsend:

The first step to moving past failure is to call it what it is. But all too often those negative meanings we apply to failure shame us so much that we become afraid even to look at failure as reality. We become afraid even to say it:

“I failed.”

“It didn’t work.”

“I blew it.”

“Oh my gosh…did I ever not know what I was doing!”

“I mucked it up.

“I didn’t have a clue to what I was doing. Have I got a lot to learn!”

What is so hard about that? It is actually empowering and freeing not to have to hide from failure, but to embrace it and admit it. Watch the people who do. Check out the winners who laugh about their failures. They are relaxed and comfortable because they have got out of the image protection business. And, they are so endearing. The people who own and talk about their mistakes as their mistakes are much more connectable and easy to identify with. They are not hung up in the useless business of trying to impress themselves or others. Instead, they are into results. People like this are so refreshing, and the good news is that you can be one of them.  

Get around people who are honest about their shortcomings. They are infectious. You will like them, and they will help you become more comfortable about facing yours. Enter the land of freedom…where you can admit imperfection. It is a wonderful place to be, and others will respect and like you for being there.

Recently, our Web hosting company had a hardware meltdown. It was awful. For a good while we had no Web service or e-mail. When it first happened, we were bummed but not dismayed, because we got the word that we would only be down for a day. But the next day the news was worse. Their servers and backup servers had all crashed, and now the word came that repair was going to take longer. Since we work with publishers and organizations all over the country, to not have e-mail essentially means that we are shut down and cannot function. At that point things went from bad to really bad, as groups and media outlets were trying to get responses from US about scheduled speaking engagements and other time sensitive issues. But there was not much we could do.

I called the head of the IT company that had set us up with this hosting company and asked, “Why are we with a company that could allow this to happen? Can’t we find someone else?” He assured me that for the services we needed, this host company was the best in the business and that they had his total trust. He described the events causing the crash as the “perfect storm” and said that there was nothing reasonable that they could have done to prevent it. His message was to hang in there. I trusted him, but I was more than a little bugged with the hosting company.

Then it got worse. The hosting company had been telling us that all the data would be recovered when they were up and running. But the unthinkable happened: they called me and said that they had recovered everyone’s data…except mine. Mine was gone. Lost forever. My schedule, my e-mail, my archived mail from every organization I work with, and on and on. Everything that lived on the server had vanished never to be seen again. I could not believe my ears.

Fortunately, I discovered that the full computer backup I make myself do weekly had kept it all. I ended up losing only a day and a half of mail between my last backup and the failure. We got up and running again, apologized to everyone who had been waiting on us, and continued on. But at that moment I had less than zero confidence in our hosting company. They had not only gone down, they had gone down for a week! And then on top of that, they had erased my life. I still wanted my IT company to find a new host company.

But then everything changed.

I got an e-mail from the president of the host company, a message he sent to all of their accounts. I won’t take up space printing the letter, but here are the essential elements of it:

* We really blew it. We were not prepared for what happened. It was our mistake.

* We are deeply sorry for the disruption that it caused you.

* Thank you to all who called and expressed your frustration to us, telling us of the things we could have done better to serve you.

* We took copious notes throughout the entire process in order to learn from what happened.

* Here is what we learned that we should have done differently.

* Here is what we have done to fix the vulnerability and correct those mistakes.

* Here are the things that we learned that we did right.

* Here are the changes that we are making.

* Here are some suggestions for you to protect yourself as well.

* We understand if you want to switch companies, and if you do, we will be glad to help you and make the transition as painless as possible.

Immediately my whole attitude changed. I was dealing with a winner here, not a loser. I felt that as long as this guy was leading the company, I was in good hands. Why, because he never failed? No, it was because when he failed, he owned it, admitted it, and put his arms around it to learn from it. He used his failure as a step toward becoming a great company. That is what gave me confidence, not the fact that he had not made mistakes. Give me a person who makes a mistake and knows what to do with it anytime over someone who does not own his failures.

Can’t you see another company excusing, blaming, and not owning its failure in a crisis like this? “It’s not our fault! It’s the power surges, the crummy hardware providers, the complicated nature of Windows. Call your manufacturer or your software provider, this is not our problem. Excuses like these are the first line of defense on most technical help lines, “Someone else is responsible, not us. It’s not our fault.”

But here was a winner. I immediately wrote the president of that company a letter and thanked him for his ownership and leadership. I told him that was why our company would be sticking with him.

I urge you to join the winners who own their failures and learn from them. All the energy you consumed protecting yourself from failure or defending yourself when you filed or beating yourself up because you failed will be channelled into solving problems and learning from them.

From It’s Not My Fault by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

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