The Importance of Learning to Fail Gracefully

One of my favorite quotes comes from the great female entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey: "Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failing is another stepping stone to greatness."

As an entrepreneur, we often don't think of our failures as "stepping stones to greatness." In fact, many of us wear our failures like big, heavy coats -- letting them wear us down to the point where we begin to second-guess everything, including ourselves. We're not smart enough. We're not talented enough. Our ideas are not good enough.

But, what if we really took Ms. Winfrey's quote to heart? What if instead of looking at our failures as disappointments or cracks in our proverbially armor, we looked at them as opportunities to grow and learn--to truly see them as "stepping stones" to our success? If we embrace the idea that failing is inevitable--and as a seasoned entrepreneur I assure you that it is -- we must also embrace the idea that how we handle that failure is what moves us -- and our company -- from good to great.

Here are three ways you can fail gracefully:

Don't Take It Personally
As entrepreneurs we have put our heart and soul into building our businesses, which can make it difficult for us to separate our professional brand from our personal identity. When it comes to failing, we must draw a solid line between the two: just because your idea failed, doesn't make you a failure. "It's harder to bounce back when you take failure to heart too much and make it about your value as a person," writes Failure doesn't change who you are as a person or your overall worth to your company and community -- it is simply a tool for showing you what does and doesn't work.

Ask Why
One of my previous Huffington Post pieces focused on the importance of knowing -- and never forgetting -- your WHY, a concept that holds true for moving forward from failure. Spend time reflecting on why things didn't go as planned. Was your presentation deck too long? Did you not have the right people in the room? Did you not dig deep enough into customer demographics? Whatever the reason, discover why things didn't workout and make the necessary changes so it won't happen again.

Make a Change -- Quickly
Get back up on the bike, head back to the drawing board -- do whatever you need to do to make the necessary changes to move you and your company forward. Several years ago I failed to consider the culture of my company when hiring a new employee. I hired someone with the right skills, but their values didn't quite fit with our collaborative environment. Had I ignored the problem and waited for it to resolve itself, I would have undermined every member of my team and probably would have caused irrevocable damage to the company culture I so greatly needed to protect. Changes to our hiring practices now let us better select qualified employees based on how well they reflect the values of our business.

One final thought on failing gracefully -- use it as an opportunity to say "thank you." In addition to being thankful that you are making the mistake and learning the lesson when there is less at stake (i.e. $1000 of revenue vs. $100,000 of revenue or 30 employees vs. 100 employees), practicing gratitude helps us adjust our attitudes and focus on the things that are going right in our world.

"Appreciating what shows up in your life changes your personal vibration," says Ms. Winfrey. "Gratitude elevates your life to a higher frequency."

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.