• Christie Drexler

Encourage Failure to Build a Winning Culture

Have you ever wondered why so many people on your team are not trying? They are doing just enough to get by and don’t seem to care. As leader, it is frustrating to see all the wasted money, time, talent, and energy. Can you identify with any of the following?

· Your company invests in sales training, yet your employees do not apply the skills they were taught.

· You spend hours preparing for and conducting meetings, coaching sessions, and performance reviews with your team members, but their stagnation continues.

· Your company upgrades and adds new products, but team members do not take the initiative to learn, much less to apply, product knowledge.

· You have repeated counseling conversations with the same employees, but they will not change their behavior.

· Your company introduces new technology to improve efficiencies, yet most team members actively or passively resist adopting these technologies.

Why don’t team members seem to want to improve? Often managers assume the answer is people are simply lazy. However, I have observed and listened to hundreds of employees over the years and found that most people care a great deal. They want to succeed, and they have a strong desire to please their leaders. Well-intentioned underperformers generally avoid taking actions that will bring them success because they are afraid to fail, to be humiliated, or rejected. Rather than mustering the courage to be vulnerable to the pain required to pursue their goals and persevere through adversity, people often choose the more comfortable path of avoiding risk. Many people fail because they never find the courage to try. Others, who do try, give up early because they are not emotionally equipped to persist through suffering and disappointment in the pursuit of a goal.

Is this lack of emotional resilience among employees a leadership problem, a training problem, or an employee problem? The answer is all the above. Training programs, leaders, and employees are all overly focused on the end goal, with little or no emphasis on overcoming the inevitable challenges along the growth journey.

· Training programs provide knowledge, skill development, and tools employees must have to achieve success. However, they rarely bring attention to the struggles employees will face along the learning process, and they certainly do not teach emotional resilience skills.

· Leaders set success-based goals and challenge their team members to meet them. However, leaders do not recognize that their employees will inevitably fail on their way to success, nor do they offer guidance on how to learn through failure.

· Many employees have been conditioned through parents, educational systems, and the current American culture to overly focus on perfection, appearances, and getting approval from others. The past influencers in their lives have discouraged failure or eliminated it altogether. These employees, consequently, do not have the skills to confront their negative emotions and persevere through adversity. They will do only enough to not attract negative attention and to keep their paychecks coming. They avoid situations that make them uncomfortable.

A good example in banking of how we contribute to this “success only” culture is lender team sales meetings. The sales meeting agenda usually focuses on how many calls were made, the opportunities identified in those calls, the movement in the pipeline, and sharing success stories. Rather than feeling energized and ready to meet challenges of the week, lenders who did not experience success the previous week usually leave the meetings feeling inadequate and discouraged. They did not meet their goals, and they must face another week filled with the same risks of being rejected by customers, loan approvers, and their supervisors. It is no surprise that lenders who attend these meetings regularly complain to their peers that sales meetings are a waste of time. I have even found the best sales performers complain about these meetings most, as they could use this time to take real action.

Never, in all my years in banking and in leading and attending hundreds of sales meetings, have I said myself or heard another leader say something like the following:

“How many tries (calls) did you attempt this week? What did you try differently this week from last week? What worked? What didn’t work? Did you meet your prospect rejection goal? Next week, I want you to double your failures, so let’s sit down after this meeting and expand your prospect list. Someone share a story where you persevered after humiliation? Share a big fail from this week with the team, and let’s discuss together what we can learn from it. Learning from your call failures will help improve your call success rate.”

Instead, the focus was always on results and never on the process: building courage, learning from failure, and overcoming the adversity that is part of every success journey.

I am not recommending that leaders shield their employees from experiencing negative emotions. We absolutely do not need to be giving out participation trophies to make our team members feel better. Rather, we must help them learn how to lose and feel bad, but still keep trying. We must encourage our team members to take risks, make big attempts, and to work their way through, again and again, the uncomfortable feelings that invariably come with exposing oneself to pain. We must acknowledge our employees’ insatiable desire for acceptance and work to build cultures that affirm great attempts and failure as the only real path to success.

Allow me to be a little vulnerable to drive this point home. It would be nice to say that I was the one bank leader that had bucked the conventional wisdom of focusing on the goal to achieve success. However, the truth is that this is a new concept for me that I have only recently begun applying. Entrepreneurship has certainly tested my adversity quotient. As a business owner, either I expose myself and grow personally, or my business dies. There is no comfort zone.

Growth is not easy to accomplish. Without outside encouragement and “a big why,” most give up. Your team needs this encouragement. As their leader, it is your job to make sure they get it. You will need support, as well, as you grow your leadership capacity. You should expect discomfort, pain, and failure along the way to becoming an extraordinary leader.

It is my joy to encourage leaders to live the victorious lives they desire. I would love to assist you in your journey. You can reach me at

“What I’ve learned above all is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under your control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success. Or as the IBM pioneer Thomas Watson said, ‘If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.’”

Leonard Mlodinow, American Theoretical Physicist, in his book the Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

Thank you to my daughter, Haley, for sharing this quote and helping to edit this blog post. You are an inspiring example to me of determination and resilience.

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