I remember the first time I failed in a new venture.
I was a clinical social worker tasked with redeveloping an adolescent residential treatment program after a massive staffing and programming overhaul. Administrators and managers on the team before me had either resigned or been let go. Treatment protocols needed to be redesigned. I would need to hire new managers and direct care staff.
To anyone else, that might have been a nightmare scenario but for me, it was a dream. I’d spent years waiting for that exact opportunity; I was an effective leader and was capable of problem-solving in a crisis.
I failed but I didn’t fail for the predictable reasons.
I failed because in my quest to develop “my own thing”, I eagerly ignored my foundation and everything I’d learned that had gotten me to that point.
I hadn’t only planned out everything I was going to do; I’d also been keeping a running tally over the years of things previous supervisors had demanded I do and eagerly awaited the time when I’d never have to do them again.
Failure is inevitable when you ignore your foundation.
It was freeing to finally be in control of my dream and in the position to make it come true.
My previous supervisor had been a real stickler for systems. Everything had to be planned in exhausting detail before anything could be implemented. I felt stifled and held back by that and decided that when I was in a position to run things, change would happen on a faster, more immediate scale.
It was important to me that I empower my team to think independently, to solve problems with confidence. I did not provide them with multiple systems and responses of what to do in any situation they might encounter. They were empowered to chart their own course.
In doing that, I ignored the fact that systems keep people organized in times of crisis. When things go awry, having a system creates a sense of safety. I thought I was empowering my team but without systems, my team sometimes felt like no one was in charge.
You can’t build anything until everyone is on board with your design.
My dream program was in my head with crystal clear detail. I’d spent years dreaming and planning the exact type of program I would create. I was confident in the superior care my program would provide. I forgot that my team hadn’t been in my head during all that dreaming. They hadn’t yet been dreaming with me.
I knew that someday the program would get “hot”. This means that several students would have a hard time at the same time. I’d created an intervention for the first time the program was hot. The first time we implemented it, the plan failed because I hadn’t spent enough time training the staff to the procedure. Instead of settling, the program got “hotter” and more kids started to struggle.
Effective managers ensure that their teams understand their vision before they implement it. I knew that, of course, but I ignored it. It should have come as no surprise when things started to crack and crumble.
Related: It's Your Vision: Help Them See It
Don’t mistake warning signs for a problem with mindset.
After that mistake, I never regained my footing.
Kids started to struggle more. Staff were more confused. There was an increase in misunderstandings.
I started to have moments of doubt: Maybe I wasn’t the right person. Maybe it wasn’t my turn, after all.
There is a lot of talk about mindset in business. We’re encouraged to talk back to self-doubt, to believe in ourselves, and to reimagine what success will look like when we achieve it. I started talking back to my doubt, reassuring myself that every program struggles from time to time.
The problem wasn't with my mindset, though. The problem was me and how I was approaching things. I ignored the cracks in the system and explained them away as a mindset problem. That obviously made for some real problems down the line.
Don’t just keep going.
It wasn’t until I completely stopped, refocused, and restructured that I found success. I went back to everything I already knew before I started out on my own. I stopped ignoring the valuable lessons and skills that had gotten me to where I was and started implementing them.
Kids started participating in treatment and staff were equipped with the skills, training, and systems they needed to be successful.
You’re sure to fail when you keep pushing past red flags and warning signs.
Slow everything down and stop all new programs. Lean on your mentors for guidance. Focus on your foundation. Take the time to build systems and procedures that are structured and make sense. Accept that failure is a part of growth, learn from your mistakes, and never again ignore the fundamentals of success that you’ve known all along.