Failure is sometimes a better teacher than success. (I’ve certainly had my fair share of lessons from failure!)
Todd Palmer joined us on the Lead to Grow podcast to share what he’s learned from the brink of bankruptcy about failure and humility as a leader.
Todd is the President of Diversified Industrial Staffing, a 6-time member of the Inc. 5000. He’s also the Founder and President of ExtraordinaryAdvisors.Com, a keynote speaker, and author of The Job Search Process.
Why Failing Doesn’t Make You a Failure
Often, we believe that as individuals, we are failures because of our mistakes. We allow a mishap or misjudgment to define our entire person. Todd said this can actually start when we’re young:
When a child brings home a report card with a C or D on it, that grade becomes the center of conversation. You won’t hear much about all the A’s on the report card.
While it’s certainly unintentional from the well-meaning parents, children begin to focus on mistakes rather than their successes, allowing those pitfalls to become their identity.
As entrepreneurs, we often do the same. We run into failure, inevitably, and we believe it’s the end.
But Todd says quite the opposite is true. Without failures, we would be missing the ability to improve — a necessary component for any entrepreneur.
‘I Almost Destroyed My Business’
Todd’s businesses, and his book, are both very successful now. But, in 2006, he had a sharp adjustment he needed to make.
In his own words, “I almost ran us into the ground … because I had Imposter Syndrome.” Imposter Syndrome (the belief others will “discover” you to as a fraud who isn’t smart, isn’t strong, isn’t capable, etc.) led him to believe he had to have all the answers.
The work environment had become toxic, dysfunctional, and very little was moving forward business-wise.
He made the incredibly difficult decision to fire everyone in the entire company, and reset.
Many would have considered that “failure” a death blow. But Todd learned from this mistake, and pushed forward.
13 years later, his business is now flourishing. Inc has named it one of the 5000 fastest growing companies in America 6 times, and Todd now coaches other business leaders across the country.
‘If You’re the Only Person in the Room, Your Room Isn’t Very Smart’
Todd’s lesson reminds me of one I also learned: In my company, everyone knew me as the idea guy. I never stopped. I was like the superhero of ideas.
Plus, after having an idea, or “aha” moment, I would research any concerns or steps related to that idea, and then deliver the idea, and all the solutions and components, to our leadership team.
I felt as if I were really ensuring their success and making it as easy as possible.
Unfortunately, it never went well. The implementation always seemed to consume far too much time, sometimes years.
I eventually hired a consultant, who gave me what we would now call 360-degree feedback.
I read the anonymous reports from my staff. They consistently said that I gave ideas without getting any buy-in or feedback from the rest of the team, especially the other managers and leaders. What I had considered a benefit was actually stifling my employees.
At first, this angered me — I thought they were misunderstanding me. But I soon realized they were right: I needed a lot more feedback from the other leaders and managers.
The next few years went incredibly well. Even during the recession, when most companies were struggling, we witnessed tremendous growth until I sold it in 2011.
Two Pieces of Advice for Entrepreneurs From Todd:
Since Todd’s a business coach, we had to get some free advice from him before he took off!
Here’s what he offered:
People believe in individuals, not necessarily in their ideas. For entrepreneurs, this often plays out in investments — people may give you the resources you need, not because they think your idea is amazing, but they know you have the drive to make it happen.
On working with millennials: As the president of a staffing agency, Todd hears a lot of complaints about employees, specifically millennials. Employers or managers will often say something to the effect of, “When I first started working, I was willing to start at the bottom and slowly work my way up. Not millennials.” Todd says times have changed.
Unless you want to be the two hecklers from the Muppets standing in the opera balcony, here’s what you need to know about millennials:
- Millennials are willing to trade money for flexibility and freedom
- They want leadership to include them in big decisions
- They want to work in teams
If Someone Had Lunch With You, What’s the Key Thing You’d Want Them to Walk Away With?
Todd would want his lunch partner to understand one thing:
“What you see is what you get with me.”