01 Jun The Benefits of Failure
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
— Thomas A. Edison on the light bulb filament.
Failure is thoroughly known. All of us have experienced failure a few times in our lives. It’s a part of growth, yet we begin to fear failing as we age.
I’ve looked around to find wisdom about failing from some of the most famous people who tell us that we have a choice when we see failure staring at us. We can either stop and back away from taking a step forward or continue on, having learned from it. The second choice, they say, will bring us to success.
Twenty-five years ago, my friends and I decided to open a coach training academy. Back then, few well-known programs were open to people who wanted to become well-trained professional coaches certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
I wanted to ensure that our program aligned with ICF because it represents the best in professional standards for coaches. So far, so good.
To have ICF accreditation, the training program director needs a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential. That’s the most advanced certification available. And, to be an MCC, you must pass a written exam and a live observed coaching session with another MCC as the client.
After a few days, I got the results. I had failed both the written and observed coaching! This was my first experience with the ICF Markers, which had specific criteria for pass/fail.
Our ability to open an ICF-accredited school hung in the balance. My staff was stunned, and I experienced a sense of shame. I’d already been coaching people for 15 years and had developed a coach training program. How could this have happened?
I looked at the work we had done to develop this transformational coach training program. I saw how many friends and colleagues were counting on the Academy for Coaching Excellence to open. I gave up self-recriminations and decided to try again.
Back then, there wasn’t a clear way to study for the exam or the observed coaching. However, I remembered my written answers to some of the questions, and it soon dawned on me that I’d used words out of context for the test administrators. I’d been trying to impress them with my “unique” and “creative” answers to the questions they posed. No wonder I’d failed.
How embarrassing! This second time in the observed coaching session, I didn’t use jargon that would make me “seem brilliant.” And as for my written responses, this time I vowed I would answer the questions in the most straightforward way possible. Surely this time, I would pass.
Nope. It didn’t happen. I failed a second time! My staff was incensed on my behalf. They knew that I’d already spent decades teaching people how to coach. They told me it was all right with them if we didn’t get ICF accreditation. We’d go it on our own.
I’m being transparent about this personal situation because I want you to know that what I’m about to tell you doesn’t come from research into the benefits of failure. It comes from an in-your-face experience.
I needed to find a reason outside of myself to continue forward.
So I turned my attention to the following:
- I looked at why I began the journey to create a coaching academy. As a psychologist, I saw that coaching is as powerful as psychotherapy. Coaches hold the client’s goals and dreams in their hands. It’s their job to support the client to create the life they would love to live.
- I saw the current life and leadership coach training situation: many people called themselves life coaches when they had little or no training. Many thought their “life experiences” were enough to qualify them.
- I focused on my vision of creating a school where we’d offer rigorous training for the coaching profession.
- Finally, I knew that quitting now would have costly consequences for my friends and colleagues.
Looking at this, I decided to try again to do whatever it took to become a Master Certified Coach. I hired others who were already certified and asked them to coach me in responding to the written and observed coaching exams. To clarify, I’d already had the ten mentor coaching sessions required to sit for the ICF exams. However, I wasn’t clear about what it took to pass them. I had my mentor observe me coaching so that I became clear about what the ICF evaluators were looking for.
I took the exams for the third time and passed!
So, here’s what I learned about how to benefit from failure:
- Focus on your “Why” – Why you began this journey in the first place.
- Focus on your “What” – What you want to create.
- Focus on your “Vision” – How you see that what you’re doing will contribute to the situation or circumstance you’ve observed.
- Finally – get support from people who have succeeded in something similar to what you want to create.
- Keep doing it until you succeed!
The bottom line for me was this: I learned I can continue without giving up, if what I want to do reflects the contribution I want to make. I’d call that a benefit of failure. Wouldn’t you?
Until next time, be great!
“The real test is not whether you avoid this failure because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”
— Barack Obama