How Failure Can Help You Succeed

by Rachel Verlik, PCC

I was recently adjusting a fence gate at my home, and using some WD-40.  I became curious as to how this well-known, ubiquitous product got its name.  This solvent formula was successful on its 40th attempt – thus how it earned it’s name of WD-40 and became the product we know today.

With that story in mind – consider the last successful project that you or your team worked on.   From inception to completion, was it executed flawlessly? If not, what missteps or struggles made you dig deep and redirect the focus or aspects of the project?  Was the success of your project stronger as a result?

Our modern workplaces often shun the idea of failure. Missteps and unforeseen circumstances can be costly, have an impact with investors and customers, and feel like you are losing face with peers, staff, and senior leaders.  If you ask most people, they would define failure as the opposite of success.

Failure is NOT the opposite of success.  “Failure” – and I use that term in quotes intentionally – solely redirects your path. It is a stepping stone of sorts, shifting your direction to greater success.  It helps drive innovation, risk, and better products and solutions.

So, actually – failure is part of success.


Conceptually, we know that we learn the most from our failures, that challenges and struggles strengthen our character.  Yet we often shy away from failing, afraid of what that might do to our image, relationships, and reputation.    Embracing failure as part of success is critical to leadership and innovation. Below are some questions to consider that can challenge you and your team to embrace failure:

  • How will we handle results that are not what we expect?
  • Will a misstep REALLY harm the brand or reputation?
  • How can we embrace a risky opportunity that while it may fail, it also may help us create a stronger product in the long run?
  • How will we learn from any failures? How can we use this to help our project or organization?
  • Are we purposely avoiding failure in order to save face or preserve our perceived reputation?
  • How am I as the leader setting the tone with my team? Is my team afraid to fail because I am?  How do I treat them when they fail?
  • How can I best show up with vulnerability and curiosity to explore opportunities where failure may occur?

Failure is the road to success.   Fail on and succeed.



For more ways to interpret your own team’s challenges and “failures” – contact Rachel for a consult.