Learning from Failure at Work with Tamara Ghandour
In this episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast, we’re continuing our work fail series because we know that if we’re working, we’re likely making mistakes, and it’s important not to live there but to learn from failure along the way. Jenn DeWall interviews Tamara Ghandour, the author, speaker, founder and president of Launch Street. Tamara is an innovation expert, and she is going to share with us her early work fails, what she learned, and how you can learn from her missteps.
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone. So we are back with our minisode work fails, and we are talking to innovation thought leader and the creator of the IQE assessment and the president and founder of Launch Street tomorrow Ghandour, and she’s going to share with us her work fails because let’s be honest, we all have them.
Tamara Ghandour: And some of us have a lot of them.
Jenn DeWall: I mean, I know, I’m sure everyone can talk, but no, obviously we all do, and that’s why we wanted to open this up and give people the opportunity to hear from individuals that are extremely successful but know that we have all found success as a result. I’m building on our failures, not living in them, building from them.
Learning from Failure
Tamara Ghandour: So I’ll start with the business one, and then I’ve got some more personal leadership ones as well. So I’ll start with the business one. So a couple of years back, I was hired by J&J to reinvent baby care, and it was, it really exciting. They wanted kind of, you know, new to the world ideas. I wanted to really shake up baby care. This was before there had been a lot of innovation in baby care. So I think maybe 2007, 2006 and I assembled an amazing team. We, you know, played with baby toys. We checked out formula; we talked to dads, I’ve been into all this great stuff. And for six months, we had our heads down working on this incredible project, and we pushed boundaries, and we came up with new ideas, and we shuffled into the CEO’s conference room to present after six months of doing all this work.
And I’ll never forget this room, Jenn because it had this massive wood table and these kind of Pestello used chairs at Crete when people sat in them, and the walls had oil paintings of CEOs past, and none of them were smiling at us at all and quite intimidated. I was so intimidating and my team at our standing up at the podium with our beautiful PowerPoint behind us and my clients to my right and his boss and the VP of this department and the head of that department, I mean all the mucky-mucks were there. And my team starts presenting these ideas that we had, quote-unquote, perfected over time. And I’m beaming with pride. I’m like a mama bear. I’m so happy. But as they’re talking, I start to notice this whispering to my right, and I look over, and it’s my client’s boss and he with, every idea keeps leaning into my client, and he’s saying things like, didn’t we try that before?
Didn’t Joan with R and D look into that? And we squashed it. Didn’t a competitor look into that niche, fail? Didn’t another consultant give us that, and we shelved it? He squashed the life out of every idea. And here’s the thing about him, I don’t remember his name and if you’re listening, call me cause I have a lot to thank you for. But I do remember that he had a mustache so big that it moved before he spoke. So this whole experience, I could see it happening cause his mustache would move every time and you’re just waiting. I was waiting for that mustache to move, and he just killed the day, and that was the longest angriest plane ride home. We’d failed. We went to that meeting, we presented these ideas, and the entire thing just got shelved right in front of me. And I’m sure you’ve been in those meetings.
We’ve all had those experiences where we get up there, and we are so excited. We’re so sure that what we’re presenting is so right and so good and that people on the other side of the table just shut us down. And he did that to us. And on that plane ride home, I’ll never forget, I went through the 12 steps of anger. I just started with seven. I started to feel, I was so mad. So I started with mustache man. I was like, how dare he, he should not be doing anything with innovation. When I got this plan, I’m going to call him and tell him he should be fired. And then I moved on to my client. I was like, well, how dare he, he shouldn’t, he can’t get buy-in from his team. He shouldn’t be the one leading innovation. And then I went onto my team was like, Oh, they were not, they’re not a good team.
They snowed one over on me. I’m gonna fire all of them before we get to baggage claim. Fortunately for everybody, it was a long plane ride home. By the time we landed, I realized that the real mistake, the real failure came from me. My team and I had been thinking about this work for six months, and then I shuffled into a room of people that were cold. They weren’t thinking about this stuff. They just came to the meeting. They weren’t in work with us. They haven’t been pushing boundaries with us. And here I was at the front of the room, pushing my brilliance on a group of people who had their own stuff to deal with and their own to-do list. And I thought that my brilliance, my beautiful PowerPoints with my cool videos, was going to win them all over. And it did the exact opposite, and it was an epic failure.
The work never went anywhere. All those ideas were shelved. Nothing ever got to market because I walked in with this ego that said, our work is good enough that you should get it. And it didn’t. And I walked in with this assumption that because we had done the work, everybody should see what we see, and they didn’t see any of it. So I’ve had that experience more than once. But that was the one that really stuck with me because it really made me realize like, wow, I need to, I need to really rethink about how I communicate and how I try to get buy-in for things. Because that was a lot of money and a lot of time wasted for all of us. And it was, I own the mistake a hundred percent it wasn’t my team. That was my job to realize, Hey, wait a minute. I’m going to be talking to people who are not part of the day to day process. How do I get them to think differently? How do I them to open up to our ideas? I didn’t. I walked in with this big, big ego because we got paid the big bucks and failure,
When Your Ego is in Control
Jenn DeWall: Right? You’re the smart one. So, of course, I’m going to create here and solve all their issues, and they’re going to love it. Love it. You know? And I think that comes down. I think you see that a lot in any organization where you’ve found a lot of success, and you know that you’re good at what you do. So it’s so easy to become shortsighted and not, you know, and forget that there are other things that we’re blind to as we get more and more successful. So then yeah, you go into that meeting, then the unexpected happens, and it feels terrible, terrible, awful.
Tamara Ghandour: And it was off-script. I had no script to go to when they weren’t like applauding and cheering. My little vision in my head on the plane ride over was them standing up and applauding because, my God, they’d never seen work this good in their life. Right. That’s what we’re all told to, to vision, like all the positive stuff. Right? The outcome we want. But I didn’t strategize the other outcomes at all, which is probably the second part of the failure really is I should have thought about what happens if they don’t get it? What happens if they have these questions? And instead, I just failed. I got nothing more to say about it.
Jenn DeWall: If I had to summarize your takeaways. Like one of those is kind of try to find, or I guess there’s a few of them there is you know, thinking about who your audience is, thinking about what’s important to them. Maybe what would, how would you describe your takeaways?
Tamara Ghandour: So I totally appreciate what you just said. And for me it’s about, the thing that we forget is what’s in it for them, not why should they love my idea or my thinking or my perspective, but truly what’s in it for the person on the other side of the table? So if I’d really thought about that, you know, my client’s boss, what’s in it for him is something that he could do effortlessly because he’s been there for 30 years and he doesn’t want to rock the boat. So how could I have presented my ideas for him in a way that would’ve gotten him to go, oh, that’s not the hard work that I’m worried about? Or have I thought about, Hey, what they’re thinking is, Oh my gosh, we’ve seen these ideas a million times before. So what I need to think about is not the idea, but why is it relevant today?
And I missed the mark on that because they were, and they had seen some of those ideas before. That happens time and time again in innovation, but the difference was the time in the marketplace and the environment. But I didn’t think about that. So when I tried to tell people a lot is think back up and think about what’s in it for them, what is in it for the people across the table. If you can think from that perspective, you can communicate to them in a way that they can be open to receiving instead of what I did was, is what’s in it for me, which is look how glorious me and my ideas are.
Jenn DeWall: All right. All right. If you do that, I mean, I think that’s natural. Again, we get the Excel at our careers, we know that we’re good and we’re confident in who we are, and there’s, you know, there’s that point where competence is a beautiful thing and then sometimes there’s that point where confidence gives us, they just blind us, blinds us from seeing some of that outside perspective.
Learning to Listen
Tamara Ghandour: They blinded me completely. And it was an incredible lesson. And of course, I’m glad I had it cause it, you know, did the work that I have today. But when I think about the failures, I think about that one, all the, because it was a pivotal moment where I realized, Hey, I got to get out of my own way, and I got to start thinking about the other people and how they’re viewing things and how they see things in their experiences. And I think as leaders, that is hard for us sometimes to get out, get out of our own way and think from another perspective. I’ll share another failure with you that came to mind, which I actually made me laugh as I was driving down thinking about it because it has been a while on this one too. But so I was recruited to head up the strategic arm of this urban marketing firm in New York City, and I was 27.
I was the youngest person at the table, and my boss was an incredible gentleman named Mike Hall, and he was in Chicago, at our parent company. And as I was building this department, my job was to go to Chicago and to present to him as if he was the client so that I could so that we could build this department and I could, you know, present all this great, these great service offers, offerings that we had for people. So I labored and labored and built like once again the beautiful presentation. Clearly, I have a pattern here, but I went to Chicago, and I met with him, and he tore apart my presentation, tore it apart in a way that I’ve never experienced. And I thought I had a thick skin until that moment. I did not. At that moment, I was on the edge of tears, and I do not cry.
And, and he, he just, he kept after me, kept after me, kept after me, and I was so angry with him. And that meeting was a total failure because I took away from that meeting that he doesn’t like my work. He doesn’t think I’m good enough. He’s trying to knock me down. But what I should have taken away from the meeting is he’s trying to strengthen what I’m doing. And he’s trying to make it better. And unfortunately, I actually had drinks with him later that day. While I was in Chicago. And we had that whole conversation about that. He said, Tamara, he said, I brought you in here, not because of your experience, not because you know, you’re trying to be a perfectionist because you don’t have the experience. You’re 27. He said I brought you in here because where I think you could take us in the growth that you provide us and what you’re capable of.
So stop worrying about being perfect in front of everybody and having all the answers. Cause at that point, I thought I had to have all the answers all the time. So stop worrying about that and just be yourself and do it and take the feedback when you get it. And I love that he said that. But that meeting itself for me was a failure because I took away the wrong thing. I needed him to tell me to realize what the real takeaway from that meeting was. I walked away thinking, Oh my gosh, I’m the worst. Why did they hire me? He’s like, what are you doing tomorrow? Like you’re not here because like everything you say has to be right. Because I kept trying to be right in the meeting, and I had just not a good idea. So I mean it, I guess it was, you could call it a failure, you could call it a lesson.
But to me, it’s one of those things that rise up of wow, I was trying so hard to be right and smart and perfect and not seeing the situation for what it was. And the environment for what it was. And had I done that, it would’ve been a wonderful, successful hugging meeting. But instead, I walked out practically in tears because I thought, Oh my gosh, my, my identity is being chipped at. You know, everything about me as being kind of knocked down. And that’s not what he was trying to do at all. I failed in how I saw that meeting.
Jenn DeWall: That is such a great story because it is to receive feedback. It’s hard when it’s not the feedback that’s telling us we’re great. It’s, it’s so natural for anyone to go inside and say, Oh my gosh, they don’t believe in me. Oh my gosh, I’m not worth it. What an idiot I am. And to go down that, you know, just that thought pattern of believing that we’re not worth it. And then what does it cost? Well, it costs you your happiness, but it costs the company your ideas. And sometimes it’s just a really, really bad assumption or projection that we’re making. Right? In that case of just assuming he was saying all these things, whereas what you found later, there was actually something else. So remember that there’s more there to feedback and it’s not, you know, go assume positive intent. Assume that feedback is there and that people want you to succeed. Right. Assume that.
Handling Negative Feedback
Tamara Ghandour: I think that’s super important to take away from that. And for me to kind of, to add to that, because I think that’s where it gets hard to get feedback is I walked in with this need to be smart and perfect, and that’s where it was a failure for me. Had I not had that mindset going into it, I would’ve had a very successful meeting. Regardless of if you liked my ideas or not, I would’ve learned I would’ve grown, we would’ve gotten to a better place. But because I was so wrapped up in what I’m presenting or what I’m thinking needs to be perfect, and I need to know it all. That’s where the roadblock happened. That’s where the failure happened. And I think we do that to ourselves a lot in the workplace and in life because we’re so busy trying to be right, trying to be perfect. And it’s some of the greatest leaders I’ve ever seen. The best phrases that come out of their mouth is, I don’t know. Let me figure that out. Not sure. What do you think? Those are what make great leaders,
Jenn DeWall: Right? You don’t have to tie yourself to. I want to be the one that looks good here. Right? I mean, there’s just so much. I just love that example because I really, that one speaks to me. I mean, there’s a lot of examples that I have of receiving feedback poorly, where in hindsight I’m like, Oh, they were just trying to help me in. Yeah. They actually had some great things that I now am really happy they said, but at the moment, it was just my own ego, my own lack of confidence to see that lack of experience, to see that that took, and it really deprived me of my ability to connect with my team, to engage because I was living in that feeling of pain, right? Like, Oh my gosh, I guess I really did fail.
Tamara Ghandour: It creates this invisible wall between you and everybody else because you’re trying so hard to be that person, to look smart, to have all the answers, to know your stuff, that you’re never really, truly connecting with other people because that’s the layer you’re always putting on it. And it sounds very soft, but the reality is that also is then hindering collaboration. It’s hindering your teamwork. It’s hindering innovation. And so that ultimately is going to hinder the bottom line because you’re walking around and trying to be right and it’s human nature. It’s not that anyone’s doing it maliciously, but it’s hindering everything.
Jenn DeWall: Tamara, thank you so much for sharing your fails. You know, we, the goal of bringing these minisodes to light, is to show people that failure is okay. There are lessons in failure,
Tamara Ghandour: So many good ones!
Jenn DeWall: So many good ones and we need to stop persecuting ourselves for making mistakes, and we need to start growing with our mistakes and growing from them.
Tamara Ghandour: One of my favorite things to do now is when I have what we would call a failure, right? The call didn’t go well. I- something happened on my keynote, and it just, something was off as my lizard brains. Like, you’re horrible. How dare you, what are you doing? Go hide. I have to shut it up. And then I like to ask myself, what did I learn here? And if I can take a moment to breathe and ask myself that I can get past my little lizard brain that’s trying to sabotage everything and get to the place of the lessons from the failure and I think all too often we have these great, they’re really great failures, but we don’t take a second to go, well, hold on. Awesome. What did I learn here? And if we can just pause and do that, we can get so much out of it and hopefully not repeat it,
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, yes, ask yourself! That’s how I’ll close. I remember that. If you’re putting yourself out there, if you’ve made a mistake, just ask yourself, what did you learn, or what can you learn? Tamara, thank you so much. I really appreciate your sharing this and being vulnerable and open because I know that so many people will learn from your mistakes and then your learnings!
Tamara Ghandour: Well, thank you so much for having me. I am thrilled to share it all. I’m an open book, but more importantly, I think we all learned from each other. Yeah, thank you.
Thank you for listening to today’s episode. To find out more about Tamara, you can find her at gotolaunchstreet.com, or you can find it the link in our show notes. If you like today’s episode, don’t forget to share it with your friends and write us a review on your favorite podcast streaming service.