I facilitated an event yesterday in Denver for World Presidents’ Organization (WPO) that focused on learning from failure. The premise of the event that 40 CEO’s attended was based on three beliefs:

  1. We are only an authority on our own story.
  2. When you get below the cocktail party talk and trying to look good, you convey a deeper truth from which people can learn and make deep changes.
  3. After age 30 we stop learning from our successes and only learn from our failures.

The speakers I invited were Rudi Fronk, CEO of Seabridge Gold; Greg Greenwood, CEO of ComCables; and Vance Johnson, retired wide-receiver with the Denver Broncos.

We had a rich session where we shared personal stories that transformed our lives and leadership.

Here are a few takeaways to apply to your executive development:

  1. Crisis reminds us how invaluable our relationships are, what really matters. These war stories significantly deepened relationships with spouses (I know this is not always the case).
  2. We tend to get drunk on our own liquor in the first stage of our life. We focus on “me” and believing only in ourselves. It creates blind spots that can derail us. Most of the speakers spoke of a change post-crisis to something bigger than themselves or money–God, a new corporate mission, and/or service.
  3. Although success results in excitement and adrenaline release, it became clearer post-crisis, what happiness really felt like. There was a deeper joy and satisfaction (fulfillment!) that was available after things broke down.

Vance’s story is a powerful one that got him on Oprah twice. His courage to do the inner work to recover from broken relationships and the shadow side of stardom were inspiring.

With no orchestration on my part, every speaker described the four elements of fulfillment that I have discovered and written about in my book.

What I neglected to report was the amount of work it took on the inside to let go of the ego attachments, guilt and shame and other crap that you become aware of when you experience failure. Losing money or a job is the least of the issues. Yet losing what you thought was the world to you opens you up to who you really are.

Thank you Vance, Rudi and Greg