Lessons In Leadership: Perspectives On Failure & Success From A Business Executive Who Has Seen Both

Advice from Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and the Electrocomponents Group

Remember the time you didn’t get the job? Or the day your presentation didn’t meet expectations? Failure is common in business and the reality is, everyone fails. But it is how an individual overcomes failure that can be critical for their career development. 

The fear of failure impedes success, and studies have shown that overcoming this fear is particularly difficult for women. Vistaprint revealed that an ‘average business mistake’ costs men £7,050.93 versus £2,701.12 for women. The same study also shows that female business owners find failure more difficult to overcome than males and that over two-thirds (69%) of female entrepreneurs feel it is difficult to beat their mistakes compared to 55% of men. 

The reality is, setbacks shape your career and should be accepted, embraced and moved on from. Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and the Electrocomponents Group talks about the fear of failure, the effect it has on leaders and shares some top tips to overcome it.

Building resilience 

It’s near impossible to succeed without experiencing some sort of setback or failure. Failing builds up resilience, develops skills and helps individuals become stronger – all of which are key traits that make a successful leader. U.S National Library of Medicine’s recent study of nurses found that respondents with high resilience scores tended to have higher leadership empowering behaviours. 

The fear of failing can prevent individuals from doing tasks all together; it can be immobilising and result in individuals missing out on opportunities that are right in front of them. 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 men are more likely to take the ‘what doesn’t kill you…’ approach.  

Debbie adds:  

“In my career, I’ve often found that I 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.”  

Setting an example 

The emotions of a leader can have negative connotations on the team. Research from Springer Link found that the emotions of a team leader are so contagious that they can overshadow the emotions of individuals in a team. Therefore, it is important that leaders lead by example and ensure they have a positive attitude towards failures.  

Speaking on the matter, 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.”  

Learning from knockbacks 

Women have faced the challenges of gender imbalance in business for years, in particular, those females seeking leadership roles. In fact, a recent Harvard study found that women are judged more harshly when making a mistake compared to their male counterparts. The outcome of this is that women choose to take fewer risks and refrain from taking on challenges or opportunities which could greatly impact both their personal lives and their careers. 

Whilst success is not an overnight achievement, it’s important to understand the value and benefits of overcoming failure. Success is earned after multiple setbacks and without a proactive mindset in place to help overcome setbacks, it can be difficult to move on from these negative emotions that failure oftens brings. 

Debbie adds: 

“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.”  

How an employee comes back from failure is often reflective on their work environment. Leaders should embrace a “what happened?” over a “who did it?” mentality to ensure that the mental stability of their staff is not at risk if they fail. It’s important that they have a safe and supportive surrounding so that when they fail they can learn from it. Although for the individual it is important that these negative connotations of failing are acknowledged, afterward you need to revalue your abilities, build up confidence in their skills and move onward toward success. 

Reflecting on experience 

The positive outcomes of experiencing failure go far beyond mere resilience. A leader’s attitude towards failure greatly impacts the individual’s ability to grow and thrive, as well as having the confidence to take measured risks and to act on their initiative. With the positive mindset of management, each team member’s sense of self achievement helps them to feel like a valued employee and drive productivity. A leader is someone that can provide the tools and teach the skills that people need to be successful in whatever they do.

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.”  

The challenge of overcoming failure goes beyond emotion but cognitive too. Whilst failure is inevitable, an individual’s approach after a setback is one that can excel a career and build strength and resilience. For leaders, the importance lies in staying positive and leading by example and, by doing so, you’re able to persevere to become a better leader and build confidence in your team. 

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.