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Success and Failure

In this edition of The Coaching Conversation, I'm going to talk about the two bedfellows' success and failure.



As a coach, the primary purpose is to help people be successful but inevitable, and I suppose predictably, along the way we bump into failure. And one of the aspects of success is that it contains failure. These are lovely old adages, aren't they? But the truth is, if you haven't failed at something, the chances are you haven't made a decision, chances are you haven't taken a risk. And therefore, by definition, you're very unlikely to have succeeded at anything either, unless perhaps you won the lottery.

So, success and failure are flip sides of the same coin. And the way, as a coach, you try to help the coachee deal with this is to recognise what success is, define it, be clear about it – this is what I want to create, this is where I'm going, these are the goals I'm setting myself, and this is how I'll know whether or not I've achieved them. But, at the same time, and as the journey unfolds, to deal with failure. Now that might be about managing risk. That might be about trying to predict in advance the challenges you may face and how you might minimise their impact, or it might be as events unfold, making the best of the bad jab. It may be looking at something and thinking, how do I find the opportunity? How do I find the gift that is lost in the rubble of this particular problem?

As a coach, your role is very much about striking a balance. It's very much about getting the coachee to realise that setbacks are only that setbacks. They're not the end of a journey that I bring something to a conclusion unless you let it. Often, it's about how you can build resilience into your coachee, how you can help your coachee gain from the benefit of fight you gain from the experience of failure, the opportunity that failure creates and go off again.

Roger Kipling knew this. He knew this when he wrote his famous poem if - ‘If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat both those imposters the same, you'll be a man my son’.

When he wrote that there probably weren't very many management books around or very many self-help books around, but there's an awful lot of experience contained in that sentence. That for me is the primary focus of a coach, helping people with success and with failure. Be clear about what you want, define it, get a clear direction about how you're going to go and do it, and set off on that journey. But accept along the way, there are going to be challenges and difficulties that may or may not redirect you and make you redefine the goals that you want.

On defining success, there's another old adage - and I have no idea who said it first and I don't actually know how old it is, but it's, for me, the best definition of success. Success is not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have. And so, when I'm working with a coachee and we're starting out on the journey of what are the goals, what are the objectives where my conversation is, where do you want to be in X years' time or at the end of your career? Where do you want to be? What do you want to achieve? What would you be proud of? What really motivates you? What really gets you excited? That's probably not money and it probably isn't a job title. And it's probably containing some kind of deeper meaning and some why the context of sense of purpose.

If you can strike that particularly rich vein of sense of purpose and build goals and milestones around that as a coach with your coachee, you will have ignited energy and enthusiasm that becomes self-propelling. it's not about simply KPIs. It's not about simply achieving a definable goal. It could be that I want to do these sorts of things in the world, in my role. And along the way, I'll pass these milestones, which could be money, could be a job title, it could be the size of the organisation. Success is often better described in the coaching context, as self-actualisation. It's making the coachee define what it is they really want to be, making the change that they want to see.

So, success and failure; are part of the same thing. You can't have one without the other. And the reality is that success is about what you want it to be. It's not about having what you want.

So, there you have it, the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at

If you want to reach out you can send us an email at you can book a free 15-minute coaching session at which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you.

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