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Extension > Youth Development Insight > Reflecting on my failure

Monday, October 10, 2016

Reflecting on my failure

By Mark Haugen

We've got a plan. It's a good plan. A tremendous plan! I don't mean to brag, but it is one of the finest. The need for this is clear. It's important for our organization, to me personally, and people say the change is needed. Their insights make the plan even better!  So why isn't my plan working out? Is it my fault? Am I failing as a leader because I'm afraid?

Nope. That can’t be it. I'm not afraid to make a mistake or do things differently. The plan is based on great ideas, worked out with the group. Our conversations have shaped the idea into something beautiful. I’m not afraid of the challenge, yet it feels like I’m failing. Why isn't my plan working?

I’m frustrated, so I reflect on the core of leading change:
  • The Problem: Can I name the change? Do other people see and agree that it is a problem?
  • The Vision: Do we have a shared vision of how it could be addressed? Is it realistic?
  • Shared Hope: Do people share a sense of hope that the plan is worthwhile and it can be achieved?
I’m not getting the desired insight I need from that reflection. So I comb through the factors that determine if I have a  'Fixed' or 'Growth' Mindset. The key premise of Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck’s research into motivation, and fostering success, is that if our mindset is fixed, we are unlikely to change or improve.
  • Challenges:  Am I avoiding a challenge because I fear failing and hurting my self-image, or am I embracing it as an opportunity to improve?
  • Obstacles:  Is there an obstacle or an outside force that is causing fears or setbacks for me?
  • Effort:  Do I see my efforts as being meaningless, or do I see myself making a difference through hard work?
  • Criticism:  Do I worry that criticism of the plan as criticism of me, or do I believe that it is helpful information we can use to improve?
  • Success of Others:  Am I feeling threatened by the success of others, or can I celebrate and learn from the success of others?
I’m not afraid of the success of others, I hope to celebrate it. I don’t worry about our effort being meaningless, immovable obstacles blocking our way, or of criticism hurting me. If it were just me and my reputation at stake, I know I’d charge ahead with the plan. In my reflection, I did realize that I’m worried about how others may feel if we fail. Bingo.

Actually, I am afraid. I’m afraid that if the plan doesn't work, that my actions will result in other people believing that they are failing. I don't like this feeling.

So, this is where I turn to you. Providing leadership isn't only about the plan, it's also about maintaining a growth mindset for everyone on the team as we move forward. What advice can you give me as I move forward to focus on the positive, recognize the effort of others, and nurture a growth mindset? How do you move a plan forward? 

-- Mark Haugen, Extension educator, regional 4-H youth development programs

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8 comments:

  1. Great, reflective blog Mark! I enjoyed reading it very much! My advice to you is to thoroughly embrace failure! But wait, are you sure you are failing? Are you sure your plan isn't working? We know critical shifts take time...maybe you are prematurely declaring failure? There are likely subtle shifts and changes in patterns of behavior that are difficult to track. As results-oriented leaders we like to SEE change like NOW. AND we want to define things as success OR failure. But I think the world is much more complex than that...so give yourself a break! :) Mary Marczak

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  2. Thanks Mary. Thanks for your insights! I do like to see change quickly. Perhaps I am being a bit too critical of myself. You are right, leading change is more complex than being a simple success or failure. When you work with your teams...do you find that any strategies work for you to maintain your growth mindset?

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  3. Mark - sometimes as leaders we take on too much responsibility for the feelings, actions and commitments of our staff. In the end, we can only be responsible for ourselves. Over the years, I have learned that plans work best and are most easily accepted when co-created by a team across all job categories - Coordinators, SNAP-Ed Educators and APDs. I will say that when a decision needs to be made, I'm not afraid to make the decision and live with the consequences - good or bad. Thanks for sharing - it was a thought reflecting article that your wrote

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  4. Mark - sometimes as leaders we take on too much responsibility for the feelings, actions and commitments of our staff. In the end, we can only be responsible for ourselves. Over the years, I have learned that plans work best and are most easily accepted when co-created by a team across all job categories - Coordinators, SNAP-Ed Educators and APDs. I will say that when a decision needs to be made, I'm not afraid to make the decision and live with the consequences - good or bad. Thanks for sharing - it was a thought reflecting article that your wrote

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  5. Thanks for this topic, Mark. A former colleague of ours, Emily Rence, once said something that I now quote in every new leader training I do: "Reflection is the difference between failure and learning." I find this to be true in every part of my life. This links very closely to your focus on a growth mindset. How can we help people around to have opportunities to reflect...and keep ourselves open to their feedback, as well?

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  6. Mary,
    Thanks for joining into the conversation. I think you are right that we can only be responsible for ourselves. I think it is also true that leaders in an organization are able to impact greatly the culture in an organization. The technique you offer, co-creation of work plans, is a great strategy! Supporting the creation of the commitment in this way definitely will be able to focus on the positive and the contributions of others! Thanks.

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  7. Hey Kathryn,
    I'm interested in your idea of using reflection. When meeting with the group I can see how some reflective questions like "What have you seen successful with the plan since our last meeting?", or "How have you helped move forward the plan?" would both help the growth mindset develop in everyone on the team. Thanks-

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  8. It's important to realize when leading that not everyone may buy in to the change/work that you're leading and that it's ok. This can be a hard realization , but an important one. You can only control so much and one of those uncontrollable things is other peoples' feelings, thoughts, and actions. You can be a strong leader and be moving a strong idea forward, yet not be successful if others aren't willing to also take ownership in the idea. I think it's important to highlight the small successes along the way to keep people encouraged and engaged with the task at hand. This is especially important since sometimes the work changes along the way and the end result isn't always what you planned in the beginning. Measuring yourself on only whether or not you reach your end goal isn't always the best practice because the end goal originally planned sometimes isn't the right goal. Reflection throughout the process is important, but it's just as important to help others know that reflection is about the work and not about them personally. I believe that this type of reflection helps to foster the growth mindset that you referenced because it focuses on growing skills and abilities vs. the fixed set that we may perceive ourselves as possessing. This type of reflection also helps to ensure that people do not see failure of work as failure of themselves. Thanks for the discussion!

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