Success or Failure: The Wrong Metric

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Success or failure is the wrong metric used to measure our growth.  In fact, it can be flat out derailing for teams, leaders and managers.  The problem is that success and failure are two extreme words.  They create polarity when used together in the same sentence.  The listener hears those words together and says: “Am I a success or a failure?”

Consider instead using the following questions:

1. How do you define success?  For me, I use three words to help me evaluate work that I do.  I think of “Presence” “Progress” and “Preparation” Presence is about me being fully engaged in the situation at hand.  Progress is about the relationship moving forward.  Preparation is about the amount and quality of time I use in advance of a conversation, speaking engagement or facilitated session.

2. What does it look like for you to progress in your role?  There are several categories to consider.  The first would be the industry knowledge you need to obtain.  The second, would be the skills you need to learn or develop.  The third would be the business knowledge you need to develop.   The question then moves from success or failure, to how much have I learned in these areas in the past 90 days?

3. How have you or your team progressed toward goals? Assuming you have created your measurable and attainable goals use this measure to see if you are reaching your goals.  If you are just starting out, this will be a bit more challenging if no one has come before you. If there have been others in your role, it will be critical to ask them what their first year goals were.   Remember, that using data only without other subjective measures creates and evokes anxiety in teams. Motivation comes through a marriage of objective and subjective measures that are connected to a cause. 

Here are a few quotes that provide great perspective regarding growth:

“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

“Energy and persistence conquer all things” – Benjamin Franklin

“If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves” – Thomas Edison

Our growth is typically not a battle between us and our manager or boss. It is typically stunted because we become derailed by the impossible goal of perfection or the absolute fear of failure.  In actuality, our greatest ally in our development is the fact that this is a process.  We can control certain aspects of our growth by being intentional in building skill and knowledge.  We can also put ourselves into situations that push out beyond our current stasis to developmental challenges.  It is important to use helpful words like growth and progress vs. success or failure.