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Learning is part of succeeding

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Don’t be afraid to do things differently. Top achievers learn from their mistakes

The most important factor in succeeding is failing. Basketball player Michael Jordan, arguably one of the game’s best players of all time, said that he had missed more than 9,000 baskets in his career, some of which had lost the games that he was playing, and the only reason that he became such a good player was because of those losses. He was able to identify what went wrong and knew how it felt, and how to change it to gain a successful outcome.

In these times of economic insecurity, it can make the business world a risk-averse environment, and discourage people from trying to do something different. But doing things differently is exactly what you need to do to succeed.

My first career was as a high jumper and my sport would have been different had someone not tried to do something differently. Dick Fosbury invented a new way of clearing the high-jump bar, which was brought to the world’s attention when he won Olympic Gold with it in 1968. People didn’t want to give up the old ways of high jumping - most used the straddle technique, Western Roll, Eastern cut-off or even scissors jump. It was comfortable, they felt safe, but if Mr Fosbury hadn’t tried to do something differently - and faced the difficulties - the sport would never have moved on as monumentally as it has.

Top tips for trying to do things differently

● Be clear about your core objective or objectives. Don’t be distracted
● Hold staff accountable for doing the things they promised you at interview - remind them of the behaviours you hired them for at their appraisals
● Don’t be afraid to fail - it can be tough in a risk-averse world, but you need to try to do something different to make significant changes
● Learn from mistakes and understand what you can do differently to get a better result next time

In your roles, you must be prepared to innovate. But to do that, you have to focus on what’s important from a nursing leadership perspective. Throw off your to-do list anything that won’t help you achieve those core goals - don’t be distracted by them.

As Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave said - don’t do anything that won’t make the boat go faster. So

be strict with yourself and don’t do things that aren’t important.

And don’t be alone in this. As a leader, you must hold your team accountable to the behaviours that deliver outstanding performance, the same ones that they used to describe themselves at interview for the role. You see when we recruit people, we analyse their CVs, hire them based on behaviours but then file their CV away in a drawer and never look at them again. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani used to refer to people’s job applications and resumés every appraisal, and make them stick to their best behaviours You should do the same.

Don’t forget that failing is part of succeeding. If you are not making mistakes, then you are not really trying.


This piece is a précis of a presentation given by Steve Smith at the Finegreen Associates Raising the Bar conference in November 2012. He won the Olympic bronze medal in the high jump in 1996 and now runs his own company providing motivational speakers to companies around the globe. See

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