How to Be Competitive & Embrace Failure




I consider myself to be a competitive person.

Whether it’s game night, the first chair, or closing a new business deal, this is how I typically feel:

succession gif

If you’re a leader in your field, you can probably relate.

It makes sense that competitiveness is one of the biggest commonalities among business leaders. Within competitiveness lies dedication, grit, perseverance, and focus. However, on the dark side of competitiveness lurks comparison, stress, and fear of failure.

This competitive tendency might be one of the reasons that business leaders sometimes skirt away from discussing their failures. Whether it’s our egos or perfectionism, our failure feels insurmountable.

As you progress in your career, it doesn’t get easier. Once you get into a high-profile role (director, CEO, business owner), failure is scary. Success is crucial. The stakes are bigger.

My hypothesis is that if you are a leader, then you are a bit competitive. And if you’re competitive, you might not be so comfortable with failing. (If you are, you deal with it, and move on, but avoid talking about it). The discomfort is the exact reason why we should put it front and center in 2020.

As a self-diagnosed competitive person who has failed many times, here are my thoughts on embracing failure.

Failure is Rarely a Zero-Sum Game

Success and failure are not polar opposites. Business is rarely us vs you.

Failing in a specific area is often caused by focusing on another. Losing a business opportunity may put you in a better position to pitch someone else next week. Ending a business partnership can bring you closer to others.

This is exactly why, “when one door closes, another opens” sentiment is so prevalent, despite it being a little cheesy.

By actively naming the benefits of your past failures, you can start to feel more grateful for those bumps in the road, which can put future failures into a better perspective.

But You Can Learn

A positive outlook is important. However, you’ll notice I said rarely, not never.

Sometimes you do bomb. And it sucks.

In these unfortunate cases, it can take years to bounce back. In the meantime, it hurts and damages your ego. I don’t have insightful advice for those experiencing such prolific failure, other than, keep going. Someday you will learn great things from this.

Share Your Experiences

Whether you’re experiencing minor setbacks or a massive blowout, having an outlet to communicate your failures is one of the best ways to deal with it. Find a group of other competitive people (If you’re competitive, this isn’t hard) and share your stories.

Good Things Come From Embracing Failure

A whole slew of positive outcomes come from your leadership embracing failure. The big ones being that it:

Builds Trust Among Team Members

Communicating your failures shows vulnerability, and vulnerability promotes trust more than any other action. If you’re in a position of leadership, speaking about your failures to your entire team can break down insecurities and promote a culture of trust.

Encourages Bravery & Growth

When teams trust each other (see above), it encourages bravery and growth. Your team moves faster and gets more done. All of a sudden, junior developers are coming to you with cool, new ideas. You let them be brave, with the possibility of failing, and during their efforts, they grow.

Talking about failure sets off a chain of reactions.

Vulnerability. Trust. Bravery. Growth.

If you’re afraid to fail, you can’t possibly reach growth. This growth is what makes you better equipped to take on your competition.

A quote that resonates with me is, “Where your comfort zone ends, life begins.” I think it perfectly sums up how we should all feel about having skin in the game.

Final Thoughts

In this post, I focused on failing and losing, but the reality is: if you’re in a leadership position, you likely win more than you lose.

So for the times you win against your competition, don’t forget that someone, somewhere, just lost.

In these instances of winning, be sure to lift up your team and competitors whenever you can. Share your success with them. Don’t take it for granted. Be humble.

And finally — even if business leaders aren’t talking about failure, they are failing. What’s important is the follow up to failure. Embrace it, talk about it with your team, and find out where you can improve.

BTW, if anyone wants to challenge me to a game of Mario Kart, I’ll wipe the floor with you.

The Failure Series
If you’re interested in this topic (or just want to hear about some of my most epic failures), subscribe to this series here.

Part 1: If Failure is so Important, Why Don’t We Talk About it?