On Failure

by Jane Mason Bloggers Circle January 2010

I decided today that I would quit my project.  Yes, that is it.  Quit.  This is a bittersweet moment.  Sweet because I don’t want to work with this client in this role one moment more that I have to, and bitter because I have arrived at this moment through failure.  I have failed utterly to have the impact on the client that I wanted to have; failed to influence th em in any meaningful way; failed to influence my own direct report to agree to do what is on my priority list; failed to master my own ego’s needs for affirmation and appreciation; a nd failed to bridge the cultural gap between me and my Swiss German colleagues.  That’s a lot of failure all in one place.

The fact that nobody has told me I am failing is beside the point.  Nobody has told me I am succeeding either and, in the absence of that, I do genuinely feel like I am failing.  I see my direct report’s failure to deliver what I want him to deliver as insubordination (he sees it as disagreement).  I see my client’s failure to praise me as an indication that they think I am stupid and incompetent.  I see my Swiss German client’s rewriting of my work into words of his own (content exactly the same) as a signal that my own work is substand ard.  In short, I feel so corrected, badgered, ignored, and criticised that there is nowhere for me to go but out.

I actually do not know how my client will react:  Naturally I hope they will be horrified at the impact of their own behaviour and beg me to stay.  Equally naturally I worry that they w ill confirm my failings and be glad to see the back of me.  The worst bit is losing my confidence.  I know in one corner of my mind that I am a successful consultant with a host of happy c lients who are happy to praise me to the skies.  Just now, however, I feel stupid and incompetent and I know if I continue to feel this way, I will begin to believe it – quitting, therefore, is an act of self preservation. 

I know a lot of other people at my client feel this way.  A couple of levels below Board and the extent of misery amongst the average (delightful, cooperative, intelligent, and professi onal) employee is palpable.  I know some of them love their jobs and their colleagues and I wonder how many of them are also enduring this dreadful feeling of failure?  This is a cultural issue and one of the many outcomes of a failure of leadership, and it naturally le ads these talented resources to keep their heads down and do the minimum.  It was astonishing how many of them could not come in to work because of the snow.  All of this rapidly this take s me to the virtue project and the lessons I learned (and have not yet assimlated or written about….watch this space) about the importance of building postive relationships.  The reason I started the virtue project was because I wanted to explore how t o reverse the negative impact the financial crisis is having on people, specifically employees of large organisations.  Very specifically, employees of large financial institutions.  Did I mention my client was a bank?  The problem is that beyond going to the press or the Bank of England with my knowledge of this organisation, I do not see how I can positively impact it in any way.  I’ve tried and I’ve failed.