Mea Culpa: The Importance of Learning from Failure

August 11, 2016 by

learning from failureWalt Disney was fired from his first job as a reporter in Kansas City. The reason they told him: “You lack imagination.”

Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job as a reporter in Philadelphia. The reason they gave her: “You tend to get too emotionally involved in your stories,” which of course is her signature.

Steven Spielberg, one of the finest movie producers of all time, was rejected by the L.A. School of Cinematography, not once, but twice.

All three of these people had the perseverance to overcome a situation when they failed, and they went on to become legends.

Here are five sure-fire tips to help make sure you’re learning from failure:

1. Become more sensitive to recognizing when you or your team is failing, and take a different approach. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It sounds obvious, but it can be easy to get stuck in this rut. Take a close look at whether your repeated steps are yielding your desired result. If not, try something new.

2. When your direct reports are disengaged, stop wasting your time trying to coach or help them. One of my most poignant failures was holding out hope that I could transform these workplace arsonists into Actively Engaged employees. After countless wasted hours, I am a fervent believer in two-directional coaching: coach up or coach out.

3. Track outcomes more closely. Are you getting the results you had hoped for within the planned timeframe? One of my company’s greatest failures was consistently hiring the wrong people. Once we began closely tracking our turnover rate, we realized we had a very expensive problem that needed to be corrected. Our failure led to the creation of “The Non-negotiable List.” We looked for these red flags during the interview process and chose not to make the hire if we saw even just one of them. Within a year, we curbed our turnover by 90%.

4. Take the time to be reflective with your colleagues and identify what’s running smoothly in the workplace and what needs a serious kick-start to succeed. Try this helpful process for getting a project “unstuck.”

5. When you fail, do not choose victimhood. The road of victimhood takes you to nowhere.


Walt, Oprah, and Steven all chose perseverance when they could have easily given up. Instead, all three of these remarkable people picked themselves up by the bootstraps and chose to try again. By learning from failure, they ultimately succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. You and your team can too.



Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.