Start Talking About Failure

The taboo against uttering the F-word—failure—grows stronger the closer you get to the top. In the mailroom, or in mid-management, you can bet they talk about problems in the business all the time.

But as you rise to the C-suites, you find executives who think they have to hide behind the pretense that they are the smartest person in the room (except perhaps for their superiors). They feel they can’t confess to failure, because they’re expected to have all the answers. They adopt or exhibit a delusional “god complex,” pretending to know all and see all—or, even worse, actually believing in their own omniscience.

But here’s why they’re wrong (aside from their egos, and simply being delusional): talking about failure is recognizing reality, and as long as you come to grips with reality, you have a chance to succeed. More than that, talking about failure builds credibility with your team by demonstrating that you are not a leader who hides from the truth.

By openly talking about failure, you model for your team the attitude and behavior you want from them: vigilance, a dynamic and continuous desire to improve, transparency, and straight talk.

Finally, admitting and exploring a problem is an opportunity to build solidarity within the team. Telling your employees, “Our business is bad,” is a dead end. Telling them, “Our business is bad. Help me fix it,” is the beginning of success.

Adapted from Fran Tarkenton’s book, The Power of Failure: Succeeding in the Age of Innovation

Fran Tarkenton

About Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as,, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.