Let’s Make 2015 the Year of “Here’s How I Screwed Up…”


Ever been asked for advice? Ever had someone ask you how to make a tough call, parent a troubled child, or coach a challenging subordinate more effectively? No matter how experienced or accomplished we get, requests for leadership advice are flattering. It is encouraging to be told we have something of value to share, and it is gratifying to help others through our own experiences. But the problem that often arises in these moments is that we don’t share the whole story. We only share a portion of it, and we end up short-changing the person who is asking for our help.

When someone asks for our leadership advice we should, by all means, share about our successes. But if we really want to maximize the value of our assistance to them, we should share equally, if not more so, from our bucket of failures.

Teaching from Where We've Learned the Most

When I ask audiences and executive teams from what they have learned the most, nearly every person says they’ve learned more from their failures than from their successes. It is actions taken out of our lack of wisdom, emotional intelligence, and knowledge that seem to teach us the most in life and leadership. Yet we are often challenged to include these stories when our advice is requested. Perhaps we are just forgetful. Perhaps we are embarrassed. Or perhaps we think we're doing the person asking for our advice a favor but skipping straight to examples of our successes. Regardless of the reason, when we fail to proactively share from our failures when asked for advice, we reduce the value we provide to others by eliminating the very things that have taught us the most.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t share our victories with those who have  sought our advice. But in the midst of sharing advice with others, can we be intentional to share how we’ve failed in the past?

Everyone Gets More, Even the Adviser

If we truly care about giving solid leadership advice to those who ask for it, we need to proactively share stories of our missteps and what we learned from those experiences. Doing so will not only maximize the assistance we're giving to those who have approached us, but it also grows within us qualities that make us more effective leaders ourselves: humility, authenticity, honesty, and transparency. That's pretty solid set of side effects for simply being asked for a little advice.

Share Your Thoughts: Have you ever sought out a leader's advice and had him/her respond by sharing examples of personal failure rather than just stories of success? If so, what was the situation and what did you learn? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

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