A few weeks ago I was in Washington DC where I attended the National Small Business Association Washington Presentation. The sessions were focused on small business and you can read about them and the White House briefing at www.nsba.biz .

While in DC, I had a chance to do some sightseeing and visited several monuments. No matter how many times I visit these historic places I am still in awe. To stand inside the monuments and read the words of amazing leaders can be very powerful. But, I am even more intrigued now because I read a story about Abraham Lincoln and learned some things that I never knew.

Good old “Honest Abe” was a huge failure. I don’t remember reading about his attempts at business but he evidently tried and failed twice. In fact, he went bankrupt and spent 17 years paying off the debt. He also lost quite a few elections before he won the presidency. Today people say he was one of our greatest presidents and a true leader. I started to think about how people view failure. Certainly no one wants their business to fail. But, according to Bloomberg 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. There are lots of reasons that it happens.

You did not do your homework.
Your products and services don’t stack up or are too expensive.
Access to capital is putting a strain on your ability to operate or market your products.
You don’t have the right location.
You don’t have the right people.
The list can go on and on.

The truth is that you can do everything right and still fail. What’s important is how you deal with failure and what you learn. Here are a few things I have learned.

Don’t try to cover up or forget the failure.  It has often been said that when we forget about the past we are bound to repeat the mistakes. GM CEO Mary Barra has made a point that she does not want to forget the mistakes that were made by not recalling vehicles with faulty ignition switches. 

Be a Monday-morning quarterback. Think about the athletes that watch films of past games to try and figure out what they should have done differently. Go back and try to dissect the situation that caused you to fail. Ask questions of your staff or customers to try and get some perspective that is outside of your own. Reach out to your advisors and be ready to hear some things you might not like.

Be a change agent. Some people keep trying to do the same thing over and over and believe they will get a different result. I once heard that called the definition of insanity. Change is hard but if there are people, processes or procedures that are getting in the way of your success you need to make changes.

In this world that is so focused on success we have forgotten that the most successful people have failed many times, picked themselves up and tried again. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Dare to fail… you might learn a great deal.

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