The Upside of Failure and Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. While that may be true, saying so does little to quell the sense of dread you feel when you make a misstep and must face the consequences. Truly successful finance and accounting managers know how to learn from their mistakes — even the big ones. In fact, being able to find the upside of failure might be one of the most important jobs you have as a manager.

In today's Monday Management Minute, you’ll find some quotes and tips to help you get past mistakes and, more importantly, learn from them.

“Success has to start somewhere. Failure needs no beginning.” –– Robert Half

Your firm has an opportunity to land the biggest client your organization has ever had — but you’re up against some stiff competition, and think your chances are slim. As a manager, do you decide to “save face” and back out of the fight? If you do, perhaps the sting of failure won’t be quite as bad as trying and losing. On the other hand, experiencing real success often requires taking that kind of risk.

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it’s more important to heed the lessons of failure.” — Bill Gates

When you do make a mistake, it’s tempting to obsess over the consequences. But try rechanneling that energy into examining what went wrong, and how you can prevent it from happening again. This might be something as small as a misstep with employee communication, or something as large as realizing you hired the wrong person for a certain position. Rather than dwelling on the mistake, grow from it.

“I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.” — Oprah Winfrey 

After a big risk doesn't pan out, the initial feeling may be it was a failure. But the months of hard work invested are only a waste if you allow them to be. Everyone who was a part of the process, including yourself, no doubt gained new skills and knowledge — such as mastering a new software program or developing better strategic planning skills. Now it’s up to you to figure out how to take what your team has learned and reinvest it into a new project.

“Restlessness is discontent, and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I will show you a failure.” — Thomas A. Edison

Where did I go wrong? What can I do differently next time? What kind of outcome am I looking for? These are the kinds of questions you should ask when you’re dissatisfied. The best managers know how to embrace the desire for change and improvement when they fail, and use it to progress and innovate.   

“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” — Zig Ziglar

As a manager, it’s hard not to take failure personally, particularly if all eyes in the organization are on you when a mistake is made. But remember, many factors may have contributed to the outcome. While that doesn’t mean you should start looking for someone else to blame, it’s important to keep in mind that your mistakes don’t define you as a manager or as a person. 

What management advice do you have for accounting and finance managers dealing with their mistakes? Share your experiences and insights in the comments section.