What Failure Teaches Us

Yesterday we looked at the role failure plays in bringing about deep change.  Failure drops us into a world of personal chaos.  Yet it also serves as a catalyst for dramatic learning and growth, writes Robert E. Quinn in The Deep Change Field Guide.

“I had never experienced this kind of sorrow before,” reflects Doug Anderson, the Dean of the Business School at Utah State, about his experience of a painful divorce.  “Deep change became like a mirror for me.  I was not always comfortable with what I saw.  I began to recognize integrity gaps that I had not previously acknowledged.”  

The condition of high or extreme challenge (feeling disoriented and unsure) is a formative stage in the change process.  It pushes us to clarify our values and become more open to the influence of others.

Doug continues: “My teaching became much more personal.  In each session, as I challenged participants to confront their integrity gaps, I challenged myself.  As I acted on those commitments, a new self-emerged, a learner who was now a much better guide to others on journeys of discovery and transformation.”

“When our world turns upside down, we are forced to search out new possibilities and engage in new experiences, writes Robert.  “Chaos tends to take us to our root: our core values and our truest desires. We gain the capacity to work our way out of chaos as we clarify our values. Clarifying our values means specifying our most essential self…  We become more internally driven, more courageous and authentic.  This gives us the stability necessary to be adaptive and learn our way through the change process.”

When we change ourselves, we change how people see and respond to us.  We emerge from periods of extreme challenge with increased capacity to influence others.  

As we move into what Robert calls “the fundamental state of leadership” we become more committed to a meaningful purpose, more values-driven, more focused on generosity and compassion, and more externally open (humility, learning, and optimism).

In Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey,” the hero sets out on a quest and must slay the dragon before returning home as an empowered and empowering leader.

The dragon he slays is his old self.  

That’s what deep change is all about: the renewal and replenishment of self and the enlargement of others.

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Reflection:  What challenges in my past have brought about significant self-change?

Action:  Journal about what I learned.

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