Startups are risky ventures — so much so that three out of four fail.
But really, failure is part of life. Everybody fails, and business is no exception. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.
But the failure itself isn’t the important thing. What really matters is how you handle those mistakes.
Take Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart and the greatest entrepreneur of our lifetime. He was never shy about his mistakes.
Once, I was riding in his pickup truck and asked him, “Mr. Sam, have you ever made any mistakes?”
He looked at me with those piercing blue eyes and said without missing a beat, “Mistakes? I’ve made tons of them!”
“Tell me one,” I kept pressing.
He had an answer ready: “I knew that customers wanted low prices. What I didn’t realize at first was that customers wanted low prices and branded goods. So we found a way to bring them branded goods at low prices to fix that mistake.”
Mr. Sam believed you should always make good on your mistakes rather than trying to come up with an excuse. After all, it’s the excuses that do the most damage to businesses.
You Derail Success With Every Excuse
Bad news doesn’t get better with age. No one is going to swoop in from the wings and save the day. The longer you let a mistake sit, the harder it becomes to resolve. Meet a mistake head-on, before it turns into a full-blown crisis. If you don’t, you’ll never have the opportunity to improve.
When I talked with Mr. Sam and other successful entrepreneurs, they candidly talked about the mistakes they made, but more importantly, they talked about how they fixed those mistakes. Without that attitude, Walmart would have never grown from a small store in Arkansas into the biggest company in the world.
Luckily for startups, you can pivot quickly and try something else — as long as you own up to what went wrong.
Besides their impact on your business, excuses have a real knack for destroying respect. In sports, one of the greatest lessons I learned was that there’s no room for sympathy, and there’s certainly no place for excuses. Your teammates aren’t interested in why you couldn’t do it; it’s your job to do it. When you take responsibility for your mistakes — and even the mistakes of others — you gain a great deal of respect from those around you.
How to Keep Excuses at Bay
Although a lot of people take the easy path of rationalizing mistakes or diverting blame, resist that urge. That’s a mistake too many people make. Here are three simple ways you can prevent this from happening:
- Set an example. Making excuses won’t build loyalty or close sales. I competed in three Super Bowls and lost each time. I could’ve blamed my teammates: “If only so-and-so had caught that pass,” or “If only our defense had allowed fewer points.” But I took responsibility for myself. If I had completed more passes and made more plays, we could have scored more points and won. Is that being too hard on myself? I don’t think so. It’s the truth. And that attitude inspired me to get back up and keep on getting better. In your business, you have to do the same.
- Encourage honesty. Adopt a comfortable company environment. Nobody should fear getting chastised or fired because he made a mistake. If employees expect repercussions, they may try to cover up even the smallest of missteps, and you could end up with a much bigger problem on your hands. But when people aren’t worried about the blame game, they’re more likely to admit mistakes and work together to fix them.
- Talk to people. Sometimes it’s difficult to identify internal pain points, but customers’ insights can provide the extra dose of reality you need. Get their honest, open, and unfiltered feedback on what you’re doing right and wrong. When you talk to different people, you get different viewpoints and are more likely to find the truth.
One thing I’ve noticed about all the great business leaders I’ve known is that none of them made excuses. They didn’t say, “I did the best I could” or “I guess luck wasn’t on my side today.” They took responsibility for the problem, identified a solution, and focused on improvement.
Startups are naturally agile and flexible, which can work to their advantage during times of trouble. The only thing that stands in their way is not having the wherewithal to acknowledge mistakes, fix them, and move on. Excuses only serve to take you over the cliff that much faster.
Image credit: CC by kozumel