The Professional Services Perspective: Failure

“Don’t confront me with my failures. I have not forgotten them.”

 —Jackson Brown, ‘These Days’

Failure. The word evokes a response, doesn’t it? It’s a word we don’t like and a reality we typically prefer not to discuss. We prefer to not fail, and most of us prefer to not be vulnerable enough to talk about our failures, individually or as an organization.

But failure—not winning, not meeting a client’s expectation, failing to meet a deadline, not measuring up, failing to win a project award, not handling a situation correctly, losing key people, hiring the wrong ones, or making a poor choice related to daily priorities—is something all of us experience at one time or another. In fact, the ability to respond properly to failure, and to learn, grow and move forward has much to do with defining who we are as a person or a business. It’s not a place to remain within, but it is important to know how to learn from our failures.

Here are just a few things I’ve learned over the years about how to respond, react, and deal with failure and struggle of various types:

  • Do not hide or disappear. Lean into it; be honest about it; own it. Good leadership leans into the failure, the lack of performance, the issues. It does not hide. It takes a proactive position. It may not be clear how to deal with it at first, but it must be brought into the open. Everyone knows it and sees it anyway, so just be real.
  • Leaning into failure and being responsive shows strength. It also is a relief to colleagues, a client or project team. “Good, we don’t have to hide the elephant in the room.” Be communicative. Don’t leave people wondering.
  • Be direct with your team and direct with your client. Assure them that you'll do everything in your power to deal with it, act appropriately, and bring the project or issues back into compliance with expectations and needs. Everyone makes mistakes, but good people and organizations correct them and make things right.
  • Remain collaborative as solutions develop and until the issues are reconciled. Collaborating says that we believe collectively we have more knowledge and wisdom than any one person. Collaboration should take place within an organization, and also externally with clients. It may be “our problem,” but a solution developed in isolation may be one of the reasons there’s trouble in the first place. Inform, communicate and listen.
  • Develop a written plan of attack. Outline it, note the action steps, develop it as a team, and share it.
  • Set up benchmarks to monitor the progress. Measure it against whatever standard, monitor, client satisfaction scale or applicable metric is appropriate.
  • Engage with and ask the opinion of colleagues, peers from non-competing businesses, board members, or others that are not involved or invested in the work, to provide a different perspective. They can be more objective. They can notice blind spots that a team may not see. They can approach it without being emotional.
  • Be visible. Be engaged. Be present.

There's a lot more to be said, but for now we'll leave it here:

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

—Dr. Brené Brown

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1. 

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.


Good stuff John! Where do you find the time for your blogs/social media....admiration! Bill Sullivan Brin Glass Company