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The Power Of A Successful Failure

We all have defining moments in our life that help shape us as a person. One of my earliest defining moments was December 1974. I was a sophomore in high school and just learned I was the #1 seed in the upcoming County Championships to be hosted at my high school. I wasn’t really surprised at the ranking because I had beaten the returning County runner-up handily the week prior. But I have to admit, I was feeling really good walking the halls of school that week. After a 3rd place finish as a freshman, I thought to myself, “This is my time,” sometimes daydreaming what it would be like atop the podium Saturday night in front of a home crowd.

Unfortunately for me, I would crash and burn in a way I never could have imagined.

I lost in the first round in overtime to an unseeded wrestler!

I was crushed. I was crestfallen. I was mad. I blamed the ref for a couple of controversial calls. I blamed the seeding committee asking, “Where the hell did this guy come from?” I blamed my coach, for not getting me better prepared. To his credit, my Hall of Fame coach, Greg DeMarco, said something to me I would never forget as I tried to pass some of the burden of my loss onto his back. He said simply:

"If you feel unhappy with your results, you have only to look in the mirror to stare the culprit straight in the eye."

Tough love? That’s an understatement. I was out of the tournament, forced to sit in my street clothes in my own gym reflecting on the coaching I had just received. It was like I was going through some of the stages of grief in those bleachers—Shock/Denial, Anger, Blame and finally: Acceptance. Coach DeMarco was right. This was 100% on me. I cannot even begin to count how many times he’d tell us “Respect all, fear none.” It was one of our team mantras.

As I watched my first-round opponent breeze through the tournament, winning 15-4 in the finals and being named the tournament’s “Most Outstanding Wrestler”, I was beginning to learn the lesson of the successful failure. As great coaches do, my coach required me to make this a learning experience by forcing me to say, “I got beat…and these are the adjustments I will make going forward.” I had to face the facts: I was overconfident, unprepared and took no time to learn anything about my opponent. The good news is that never happened again... not in athletics, not in business.

This defining moment became a successful failure because the lesson learned that night would stick with me wherever life took me. It was the impetus for me looking in the mirror after every lost sale and saying, “I was outsold…and these are the adjustments I am going to make.” Anyone who has ever worked with me has seen that firsthand.

In most sales organizations when a deal is lost, it is highly unlikely you will hear the salesperson say, “I was outsold….and these are the adjustments I am going to make.” That is a missed opportunity. A loss is an opportunity to learn. In business, a failure needs to become a successful failure in order to create learning and improved performance.

At Butler Street, the foundation of our sales training lies in The Four Cornerstones of Success®—Attitude, Personal Accountability, Perseverance and Habit. A winning sales organization understands the importance of the successful failure for cultural consistency and for continued improvement. We help companies and their people grow.®

Contact us to learn more about our approach to building a learning organization through cultural consistency.

By the way, I met that first round opponent again in a dual meet three weeks later. This time I was prepared and won 4-0. Respect all, fear none. That’s my mantra.

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