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How Failure Makes You a Better Manager

When I was a young manager at Texas Instruments, my boss would occasionally get it in his head that I was worth mentoring. What he saw that made it worth the effort of trying to get anything through my thick skull is beyond me.

Nevertheless, he once told me I could use some failures under my belt. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I was sure he was wrong. And that, right there, really defines the problem with young managers. They tend to be full of themselves and can use a little humility.

Seriously, being young and fearless is fine, but thinking you're impervious to disaster leaves a gaping hole in your experience. Failure provides balance that makes you a stronger leader and a more capable and promotable manager.

Simply put, failure teaches you critical career lessons. Here are three:

Failure is inevitable. No individual, company, product, or anything, for that matter, goes straight up and to the right. There are potholes, hurdles, twists and turns, aka failure on the road to success. Why is it important to realize that? Because, once you've been through it a few times, you don't fear it as much, and that helps to make you more willing to take chances or risks - very important in business and management.

Failure is good for relationships. Nothing builds stronger relationships than failing, admitting it, then demonstrating that you're willing to go to extreme lengths to ensure that it doesn't happen again. This works between sales and customers, marketing and product development, virtually any business relationship. But remember, it's how you handle failure that counts. If you don't admit it, etc., the whole concept falls apart.

Failure teaches you empathy. Besides knowing it's not the end of the world, failure teaches you empathy for others when they fail, and that in turn makes it easier for you, as a manager, to give your employees the rope they need to succeed -- or fail. When you show faith and trust in your employees, it helps to build their self confidence. It also builds their loyalty and faith in you, as a manager.

    One last tip for senior managers, executives, CEOs, and those who aspire to leadership positions. Admitting failure shows that your human, and that makes you a stronger leader. Why? Because, everybody fails and everybody intuitively knows that. If you appear to never fail, or don't admit failure, people wonder what you're hiding. That makes you less genuine and harder to trust -- and follow.