In my experiences I have encountered people who sometimes get downhearted and upset when they have done something wrong on the job that they consider a failure. What many people do not realize is how much failure plays a part in their ultimate success.

I often refer to the life of Abraham Lincoln, one of this country’s most respected presidents.

  • 1831 Failed in business
  • 1832 Defeated for state legislator
  • 1833 Failed in business
  • 1835 Faced death of fiancee Ann Rutledge
  • 1836 Suffered a nervous breakdown
  • 1843 Lost election to Congress
  • 1848 Lost election to Congress again
  • 1849 Rejected for Land Officer
  • 1850 Faced death of son Eddy
  • 1855 Lost election the Senate
  • 1856 Lost nomination for Vice President
  • 1859 Lost election the Senate again
  • 1860 Elected 16th President of the United States

There are other famous “failures” as well. Consider:

  • Many of Albert Einstein teachers thought he would never amount to anything.
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was, “too stupid to learn anything.”
  • Media mogul Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job as a television anchor.
  • Henry Ford failed in his first attempts in the automobile businesses.
  • Sir James Dyson, who in commercials states he wants his vacuums to “work properly,” went through 5,126 failed prototypes.
  • The University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts rejected Steven Spielberg multiple times.
  • Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity team as a high school sophomore. He was sent to JV. During his NBA career he missed 16.5 percent of his free throws, a total of 1,447.

In business, you have to look at the big picture. Additionally, you have to examine your career in the same way. “Failures” can only be that if that’s as far as you go. When something happens, take a moment to examine it and learn from it. Build on that knowledge and move forward appropriately.

Here’s an example of how one boss did learn from failure. When I hired on an associate, we went to the Microsoft store to get our computers and phones synced. I wanted an office set up where we could seamlessly interact and be productive. We scheduled an appointment. The first employee to help us was unprepared and didn’t have the knowledge. He called in a colleague who did not have time to assist us. They were both condescending and rude. Further, they manipulated software on my computer without my permission. In addition, personal information from my PC was read aloud in the store by one of the Microsoft employees. My associate and I departed the store.

We returned the next day to speak with the manager. We shared our story and our experience from the previous day. He apologized and the most shocking response of all? He did NOT serve up excuses, try to justify or rationalize what had occurred. He simply apologized, assigned his two “star” employees to our case. All issues were resolved. As a boss and leader, he knew providing great customer service after a “failure” improved our experience and our standing as future customers. That’s an important lesson. Keep an eye on the ultimate goal and quickly move in that direction. It’s possible to turn “failures” into “successes.”

The choice is yours!

Stuart Friedman is president of Progressive Management Associates. He is a business visionary who guides organizations through cultural shifts. He promotes environments that inspire collaboration, transparency in the pursuit of strategic outcomes and heart-felt desires. Reach Stuart via email: