I love failure. It’s liberating and horizon expanding.
I hate failure. It’s humiliating and demoralising.
Nothing bitch-slaps humility into you like failure.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve held one leadership role or another. In Primary School, I was class lead for Quantitative Analysis in Math Class, then in Secondary School, I founded our first Cooperative Society. By the time I got to University, I was leading a Choral Group. It was there that I learnt some valuable lessons, that have shaped my philosophy of failure and more importantly, how to lead teams.
Every year, my choral group put up a gala event to which the whole school was invited. We had a well deserved reputation for being the best and so we drew a large crowd. In my second year in school, I was handed the baton of leadership for the group, overseeing members much older than I. In typical fashion, I proceeded to drive everyone hard. We practiced overnight. We took songs over and over if we fumbled. Any idea or contribution that I deemed unworthy was summarily dismissed. As we approached the date of the gala night, everyone but me knew the group was exhausted and at sub-par performance levels. I pushed on nonetheless.
Eventually, the gala came and went but it was a spectacular failure. Choristers had lost their voices, songs were out of tune and performances were lacklustre. We were completely mortified and disgraced.
Notwithstanding the pain, I learnt a few hard lessons on that day. You could say I was well schooled by failure. Here are some of them:
1. People come first: Never place the success of a business or project above the team. Without people, there’ll be no business.
2. Manage capacity: In a team, people are at different levels of ability or passion. It’s your job as a leader to build people and to coax the best from them. Oftentimes, your team can’t see what you see. You must infuse them with your vision and passion.
3. Pick yourself up: Learn from failure quickly and face the next challenge squarely. No matter the humiliation, your next success is your best vindication.
4. Be humble: You are neither infallible nor invincible. Listen to the opinions of others and implement their suggestions. The key to your success may lie with someone else.
As you explore the journey of business, there will be failure. Never give up.
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