Leadership Lessons: It’s Adversity That Defines Who You Really Are

“Embrace what you actually get”…

If every business is a stage, and we can choose our performance, then we have the ability (with practice, and mindfullness) to define the way we view and act when presented with a challenge. The first step (as it is on stage) is to accept whatever is given to us, and then to do what we can to see the positive, “yes, and” it when possible and make the most of the scene and the offers around us.

Leadership Lessons: It’s Adversity That Defines Who You Really Are.

Why taking a positive approach to failure can lead to innovation

The constant push for innovation and creativity requires new knowledge creation.

How do our mindsets encourage or discourage this knowledge creation?

I believe it starts with positivity. We know we can train our brains to be more positive. Now, let’s take a look at the “business” case for positivity. 

Last week I had the privilege of sitting in on an inspiring lecture in the graduate school of Organizational Psychology at Columbia University. The class was entitled, “Positive Psychology”, and this happened to be the very first time a class on this growing field was being offered.

The mindset of an Improviser is rooted in many aspects of Positive Psychology, most notably is the way in which we view FAILURE.

Consider – what is your reaction to failure?

Often times we feel, or hear it’s more important to get something right than to experiment and take calculated risks. Instead, more value is placed on competence. Failure is feared, dreaded, and considered too expensive.

This focus on competence may be preventing you from taking the risks that can lead to that big innovative breakthrough. Simply put, focusing on competence alone can discourage new knowledge creation.

What positive psychology encourages is to adopt a new approach to the word “failure”.

To promote innovation and creativity, positive psychology challenges us to:

  • To be more willing to incur failure, to embrace it as you acquire knowledge and skills
  • Adopt a mindset of persistence, grit, resiliency and growth
  •  Seek a learning orientation instead of a competence orientation
  • Ask for help and encourage collaboration  – too much of a focus on independence may inhibit new knowledge creation

What is your organizational and personal response to failure?

It’s imperative to note that this approach does not encourage making careless mistakes and failing miserably.

Instead, it encourages you, your team, your organization to shift your mindset regarding “mistakes” and failure”.

When we are not punished for failing, we are opening ourselves up to try new things, taking risks, seeking new paths, new connections, all to increase our propensity for the kind of knowledge creation that leads to innovation.

After all, failure is only a true failure if you didn’t learn from the experience. 


Are we too afraid to innovate? – Harvard Business Review

Are you in an environment where innovation is imperative but failure and risks are punished? How can we truly innovate when we’re afraid of the consequences? To have the freedom to test new ideas, failure must be embraced as part of the innovation process. Fail quicker, learn faster:

“The trick is to remember that those who experiment must also fail. And unless we protect them from the consequences of this failure, people will stall. They may talk a good game. They may participate in all those brainstorms. But the real world of innovation will remain undone”

Afraid to Innovate? Create an Airlock – Grant McCracken – Harvard Business Review.

Tips for delivering feedback like an Improviser

Delivering and receiving feedback is an art form in and of itself. We can’t always control how the feedback we give will be received, but we can control our approach to delivering the information.

Learning the principles of Improvisation can not only help us stay present and adapt to the information we receive in conversation, but also provide useful tips on our feedback approach.

1. Start Positive

  • It may sound obvious, but how many of us start our feedback session with a positive?
  • Help set a positive tone for your meeting
  • Starting positive is not about stroking an ego, it puts your team in the right frame of mind to hear the feedback that will follow
  • Starting positive establishes connection and builds trust
  • Reminds employee you are both working towards the same goal

2. Be Specific

  • Improvisers stay away from vague offers because it doesn’t help move the story/conversation forward
  • Be specific in your feedback and praise so that the receiver is as clear as possible
  • Are your offers vague, closed, or open?
3. Know your objective
  • Stay focused on the goal  – ask yourself, what do you hope to get out of this meeting?
  • Tie back to the objective as much as possible
4. Make your partner look good
  • As improvisers, our number one goal on stage is to support our partner. We do this by actively trying to make our partner look good. We achieve this through focused listening and maintaining an open dialogue as much as possible.
  • It reminds us we always have our partners best interest in mind
5. Adjust your approach to failure
  • When delivering and receiving feedback consider your approach to the dreaded term of: “failure”.. Can we learn to view failure as a learning opportunity instead of an error that we can’t recover from?
  • What behavior are we modeling?
There is an art to giving feedback, and it can make all the difference  in getting to desired results, establishing trust, and building a connection with your employees.