May 19, 2020

My Biggest Failure in Life

Fresh off becoming my company's youngest Sales Leader ever, I was blindsided by four heart-wrenching words. This led to my life's biggest failure, but in the process, I also learned some of my most important lessons.

You might recall we talked about the two most important days in your life—the day you’re born and the day you find out why. 

Author Taylor Hartman suggests there’s a third day: when you discover how to contribute the gift you were born to give. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my day of discovery was the day I got fired. Despite how painful the experience was, that event would fuel a future desire to help other rising leaders learn from my mistakes.

In 1982, I started working for American Convertors, a division of American Hospital Supply based out of New Jersey. I won Rookie of the Year and Top Quota Breaker in 1983 and was later recognized at our national meeting in Las Vegas in the spring of 1984. I was soon promoted to Product Leader that year and relocated to Chicago. Six months later, I was thrilled to be promoted again and moved to Detroit as the youngest Sales Leader in the company’s history at 23 years old. 

A year into the Sales Leader position, my boss calls and says, “Can I come see you?” I respond with a hearty, “Yes!” imagining that we’ll have a chance to connect about how well my team is doing. Instead, my boss arrives and essentially tells me, “You’re out of here.” 

I was stunned. The startling news marked the beginning of how I began to process three very essential lessons:

  1. The only things you can control are your attitude and effort. I made the mistake of living off my past successes. I was trying to ride a wave that had already hit the shore and I was stuck on the beach with my head in the sand. Attitude and effort need to be a lifelong commitment so you’re always growing, learning, and pushing yourself.
  1. Remember that leadership is about service. I mistakenly thought, “I’m the boss so you serve me.” I wasn’t shaping my day to meet my team’s needs. I wasn’t there for them. Servant leaders help remove barriers and provide support so team members can reach their true potential.
  1. You have to work together to win together. I miscalculated how to get things done. I thought I needed to go it alone to go fast. I envisioned that working harder meant that it was about me and how I alone would make that happen. I hadn’t learned yet that you could get much further if you work together with your team.

These pearls of wisdom didn’t happen as I packed up my office. A pivotal event took place after I got fired. It opened my eyes to what I could learn and eventually pass along if I could commit to one thing

Watch for my next installment when I share the details of that event and the one thing that changed my life.

Stand by your why,

Steve sig black 150

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  1. Shannea

    Great article – looking forward to more insight into your journey, what you learned from this experience, and how you put your learning into practical application as you moved forward.

  2. Rosa Webster

    Great insight and wonderful advice for all of us!

  3. Charles Dhanaraj

    Thank you, Steve, for this thoughtful commentary. To lead is to serve. You make that point so crystal clear.

  4. Felicha Ragsdale

    Nicely put Steve! Very great points to live by. Keep sharing…great insights!

  5. Steve Gillespie

    Good early morning read! Made for great introspection here! Keep the leadership insight flowing!

  6. Fred Dawson

    The greatest leader is the biggest servant of all. You have an awesome event that obviously set you forward in a great direction.

  7. Pete Rhodes

    When I saw and opened my linkedin message from Steve White, I was excited to hear what you had to say. I now am excited to continue to hear more of the powerful message from you to come.

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