Successful leadership: How women can overcome failure?

failure, stressed woman, female leader

Article provided by Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and the Electrocomponents Group 

The fear of failure remains an obstacle impeding females’ success in the workplace and the reality is everyone fails at some point, but it is how an individual overcomes failure which can be crucial for career success.  

A recent study by Vistaprint revealed that an ‘average business mistake’ costs men £7,050.93 versus £2,701.12 for women. This study also found that british female business owners find failure more difficult to overcome than their male counterparts and that over two-thirds (69 per cent) of female entrepreneurs feel it is difficult to overcome mistakes compared to 55 per cent of men.

Setbacks are a reality that individuals should accept, embrace and move on from. Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and the Electrocomponents Group, below discusses the fear of failure, the effects it can have on leaders in the workplace and the steps to take to overcome it.

Roll with the punches  

You can’t learn without failure. Failure allows individuals to become stronger, develop their skills and build up resilience – key traits for successful leaders. Research from the U.S National Library of Medicine found in its study of nurses, that respondents with high resilience scores tended to have higher leadership empowering behaviours. However for women, the challenge to reach leadership positions is much harder – evident in the fact that females represent only 6.6 per cent of all Fortune 500 CEOs.

Often failure can result in avoiding a task or experience altogether, it can immobilize and prevent one from moving forward and ultimately miss some great opportunities that are right in front of you. A study from Cornell University has shown that women are so averse to failure that they don’t apply for jobs unless they feel 100% qualified, whereas males are more likely to take the ‘what doesn’t kill you..’ approach.

Debbie adds, “I’ve found in my career that I’ve often had to remind myself that I am qualified and deserving of my job role – otherwise I wouldn’t be here in the first place. I have faith in my skills and have taken specific steps in my career to ensure I have the tools I need in order to lead effectively.”

“My past failures have shaped me as a leader and fuelled some of the most valuable experiences and opportunities in my career. From decisions I’ve made, people I’ve hired, or relationships I’ve built, from each experience I was able to take away new learnings and new skills.”

A leader has no greater role than ensuring their staff is in a position to be successful at all times.

Learn from setbacks  

Gender imbalance has been an ongoing challenge for women in business, in particular for those who are seeking leadership roles. A recent Harvard study found that women are judged more harshly when making a mistake compared to males in the same position. This results in females taking fewer risks, refraining from taking on challenges or opportunities and playing it safer when it comes to both their lives and their careers.

Success doesn’t happen overnight, because success is earned after multiple setbacks which build strength and resilience. Once you fall backwards it is common to get yourself in a rut, analysing and assessing your abilities and convincing yourself that the task was never achievable.

Debbie further comments, “Failure distorts your perceptions and can have a serious impact on your mental health and wellbeing. After failing, individuals often find themselves doubting their skills, intelligence, and capabilities, a common occurrence which is hard to prevent. However, how individuals approach the changing mindset after failure is crucial.”

As a manager, it’s important that you create an environment that makes it safe for employees to fail and from which they can learn. And although for the individual it is important that these negative connotations are acknowledged, afterward you need to revalue your abilities, build up confidence in your skills and move onward toward success.

Setting clear plans  

According to research from Springer Link, the emotions of a team leader are so contagious they can overshadow the emotions of individuals in a team. Employees are impacted by the emotions of their managers, therefore it’s important that a leader has a positive attitude towards failures.

Debbie comments, “Set clear goals, that way, your employees will understand the expectations you have for them. This reassurance of your vision will eliminate any confusion and worry your employees may have of their roles and responsibilities.”

Taking the plunge and changing the mindset  

What’s the worst thing that can happen? The benefits of experiencing failure go beyond mere resilience. A leader’s attitude towards failure greatly impacts the individual’s ability to grow and thrive and to have the confidence to take measured risks and to act on their initiative. If a leader’s attitude is positive, it will increase each team member’s sense of self achievement and worth which, in turn, helps them to feel a valued team member.

When leading and mentoring a team, having the understanding of roles and responsibilities of each employee is key. It is important that the concept of failing is the furthest thing from an employee’s mind. They must feel supported and safe when working so that if a mistake happens, the impact will be softer and they will know they have the support needed to fix their mistake. A leader is someone that can provide the tools and teach the skills that people need to be successful in whatever they do.

Speaking further on the subject, Debbie adds, “Nobody is perfect all of the time, in fact, people can relate more to individuals that are both open and honest about their mistakes. Within a team, individuals can grow and excel in their careers quicker from a trusted environment that can provide constructive criticism and that mentors during mistakes. It is important to remember that everyone will fail at some point, but a good leader is someone that can cushion that fall.”

Failure is one of life’s greatest enablers, it shapes us as both individuals and leaders. By taking accountability for both your actions and your team’s, and by having a positive approach to mistakes, you’ll be enabled to persevere to become a better leader and shrink the confidence gap in others.

Debbie-Lentz-ECM (1)About the author

Debbie Lentz joined Electrocomponents plc, a global multi-channel provider of industrial and electronic products and solutions, as the President of Global Supply Chain in 2017. Debbie is responsible for leading the further development of the Group’s supply chain capability to provide an innovative and sustainable market-leading service for customers and suppliers.

RS Components is a trading brand of Electrocomponents plc, a global multi-channel provider of industrial and electronic products and solutions. We offer more than 500,000 industrial and electronics products, sourced from over 2,500 leading suppliers, and provide a wide range of value-added services to over one million customers. With operations in 32 countries, we ship more than 50,000 parcels a day.

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