Beyond failure: trust through ownership, accountability

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 13, 2009 

Last week we looked at the importance of embracing failure. But unless we acknowledge our failures for what they are, deal with them, learn from them, and move on, we may experience one of the greatest failures of all: failure of trust. This is the theme of an important new book I will get to in just a moment. First, some reader responses.

From Ontario, Marie Suthers wrote:

“When I reflect on failure in my own life, I see that these moments are truly ‘fingerposts on the road to achievement.’” She thought back to the time at age 11, when in spite of her best efforts she failed in her attempts to revive a drowning victim. (See her story on heroism, Feb. 11, 2009.) Clarification of the issues surrounding the incident “is what propelled me into learning more and eventually teaching first aid and CPR.”

Airdrie coffee companion Shelley Brown wrote about the importance for her as an athlete of not giving in to her failures, but growing with them.

While still a young competitive figure skater she learned that “falling forced one to change things until there was a successful landing or some other beautiful move. Physical restrictions, injuries or being failed by the judges at the silver and gold medal test levels was common. For years I passionately got up, brushed off and got back on the ice the next morning and prepared to try again!

“In retrospect as maturity snuck up on me, this experience proved to be a foundational life lesson for viewing failures and setbacks as necessary experiences on the path to success and achievement.”

In regard to preparing our children to deal with all kinds of failure, British Columbia author/educator Philip Thatcher wrote:

“One key in finding our way through is to educate capacities of imagination and flexible thinking in children, with courage and a sense of responsibility toward whatever walks into one's life, as distinct from imparting much of the knowledge we think they will remember all their lives. If we learn to think out of ourselves, we can find, lose and then find again what we need to know in the moment.”

Now back to a new book on trust and its relationship to failure.

I had coffee with Cochrane-based business consultant and author David Irvine the other day. Commenting on global affairs of the past year, he said, “We don’t have an economic crisis; we have a crisis of trust.”

Trust is “the most important issue facing the world today,” he said. It “lies at the foundation of every relationship. Trust is the keystone of success in work and in life. It crosses cultures and generations. Building and restoring trust is our number one challenge today.”

But we don’t come by trust accidentally. It has to be learned and earned, and this is the point of David’s latest book, Bridges of Trust: Making Accountability Authentic (co-authored with Jim Reger).

In Bridges of Trust, David develops further his thoughts on authenticity presented in his earlier books, Becoming Real: Journey to Authenticity (2003) and The Authentic Leader: It’s About PRESENCE, Not Position (2006).

Authenticity requires that we take responsibility for our decisions and actions. No more living in denial. And especially, no more playing the “blame game.” Ducking responsibility and blaming others for our failures is a dead-end street, David emphasizes. We must “stop blaming and start living.”

Although addressed primarily to the corporate world, the book has much to say about parenting. “We are not born accountable; we have to develop this trait,” he writes.

Parents who overly protect their children from challenges deprive them of the opportunity to become trustworthy. “To be mature adults, they need to learn how to deal with what life hands them.”

In particular, they must learn to take ownership of their choices and the consequences of their choices. “As we intentionally support young people to think for themselves, to problem-solve using their inner resources, and to trust their own wisdom, we are preparing them to live authentic, capable, and accountable adult lives long after we, as caregivers, are out of the picture.”

Bridges of Trust is available locally at Bentleys Books and Westlands Bookstore, or at

Before ending this week’s column, and in the spirit of accountability, I have a confession to make: I’m a trekkie. And I must say, the just-released latest installment in the Star Trek series is a real winner. But more than that, it provides an intriguing case study in David’s views on progressing from failure to accountability and trust. I think it just may help our society to boldly go where we were afraid to go before and “live long and prosper.”

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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