Olympics season has come and gone, a time we celebrate with champions, cringe with the close calls, and weep with the hopefuls.  But lately, the world is (again) aghast at two divers from the Philippines who seem to not understand that Olympic diving requires landing in the water with otherworldly precision.

Long story short, it was a disaster.  Everyone’s latest favorite irresistible train wreck.

Just in time for the world to cringe with horror and laugh at how they could have qualified for the Olympics, the divers received a score of zero…and then high-fived each other.  The Filipino divers were dealing with an extremely public failure while under pressure to perform like the Olympic gods we expect them be and still they celebrated their performance.  We expected shame, but instead we got the most honest, jovial response to failure we’ve seen.

Here are three things we can take away from this performance of failure and amazing recovery.

Lesson 1: Failure Is Inevitable. It’s How You Respond That Makes All The Difference.

Anyone who’s been in business for a season knows failure personally or vicariously.  In the end, leaders know that to obtain success some amount of failure is inevitable.  Failure itself is not the problem. It’s how we respond to failure that makes the difference.

Many corporate cultures don’t support failure as a legitimate outcome.  It is feared.  It is shunned.  It is discouraged.  To respond positively requires confidence, high EQ, and a culture (more specifically, a manager) that allows you to make mistakes.  And the wise leader knows that failure is not only inevitable but helpful for true lasting success.  As Henry Ford said “failure is the only opportunity to more intelligently begin again.” In other words, if handled wisely, failure gives us all a chance to step back, reflect, and learn from our circumstances and choices.

Lesson 2: You Can Create A Culture of Resilience And Risk-Taking.

Last week, we discussed trust and its effect on millennial engagement. Gallup reports that Filipinos are amongst the top 10 most resilient peoples.  This resilience supported them through natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and certainly supported these young divers to not only recover from this competition but also from the social media storm that followed.

For leaders it’s not only about country cultures, but organizational culture. Research by Daniel Goleman clearly shows that those leaders using Affiliative, Democratic, and Coaching Leadership Styles create cultures that encourage more risk-taking. More risk-taking can mean better long-term performance and innovation.

Lesson 3: Leaders Must Help Navigate Who is Ready for The Big Risks (And Potentially, Big Failures)

 Now we’re not in pursuit of failure for the sake of failure.  Nor do we, as leaders, want to throw our fledglings out of the nest too soon.  Creating a culture where failure is an acceptable outcome also means navigating the decision-making process of which projects can afford failure and which leader is ready to take on the pressure of high stakes projects where they must take risk and everything is on the line.

In our Apollo Leadership Experience, we discuss a concept of “Step Up or Step Back” leadership: the decision process where a leader must decide for every situation if they should step up and take command or step back and let their direct reports take the lead. We’ve found this to be a critical skill for leaders at all levels to effectively lead, face risks, and overcome failure.

As you examine your culture and how you can embrace failure, consider:

  • What is the standard response to failing?

  • Does your culture suppress honesty?

  • How does it differ for leaders and the team?

At our soon to launch program, Brace for Impact, we’ll be exploring these leadership concepts: how to prepare for setbacks; how to respond to disruptions in your business, and how to successfully recover for long-term success.  Would you like to explore these concepts with us and how it can make a big splash at your company?  Drop us a line or join our newsletter.  We’d love to hear from you.

Learn and experience more with Experience to Lead. Check out our Gold Medal Leadership Experience.

P.S. – Hey, did you catch that?  Did you look closely?  These divers weren’t a part of the Olympic team after all! They were proudly representing their country at the 2015 SEA Games.  But it’s never too late to learn from their phenomenal response to failure.  Check out their “Olympic” dive video here.