Life Beyond an EPIC Fail

by Onyeka Nchege on February 16, 2015


American Football on the field with yard line and green grassIt’s 2:10 PM on a Saturday and my son Kalu and I are in the barbershop getting a haircut. Our barbershop, like most others, is the place where everyone is an expert on everything. And yes I mean everything – doesn’t matter what the topic is – politics, education, current and world affairs…..no topic is off limits as there is always an expert present on any topic at the barbershop. It’s the only place where self proclaimed experts congregate and debate the day’s hottest topics/subjects. There is no place like it in America.

And this particular Saturday was the one immediately after the Super Bowl, which meant the opinions of every ESPN analyst, sports commentator and NFL coach and player were to be questioned, corrected and scrutinized with a level of passion and authority that would frighten the skittish. You see, the barbershop is the only place, outside of a professional locker room, where game film is analyzed as if we were all suiting up to play the following week.

On this day, as we settled in for our passionate and authoritative sports commentary, just barely a week from the last ditched debacle of the Seattle Seahawks that cost them the most important game of their season, I knew my son and I were in for a treat. There were varying opinions buzzing around the room on every action we all witnessed that evening while watching the game, but the general consensus from all was the Seahawks made a huge mistake executing a pass play instead of a run play. In that one mistake, the Seahawks reduced their winning season to a 20 second heartbreak.

As I often do, especially in the presence of my children, I steered the discussion to one of learning and leadership. I have had my share of failures (everyone encounters failure at some point in their life – it is proof you are striving) and I continue to learn from my failures. I challenged everyone to think about the lessons we could draw from those last few seconds of that game. In addition, I shared 3 leadership principles that resonated with me immediately following the Seahawks tomahawk.

Surmounting a setback often means a MODification in leadership strategy.

    1. Mirror Mirror – My first thought was that the Seahawks coach (Pete Carroll) has to look at himself in the mirror and admit his play call was wrong, essentially, he has to acknowledge his mistake. It is often the toughest pill to swallow, but admission is the first step in correcting the mistake, regardless if the decision appeared to be a great one at the time when you made it. This speaks to feedback, which is the catalyst for change. It begins with truths, facts and understanding – especially ones you tell yourself.

    2. Own IT – As a leader, the first person we have to hold accountable for mistakes that occur under our leadership is ourselves. Admitting the mistake is indeed the toughest pill to swallow, but another pill that chokes down behind it is acknowledging your mistake to your team. It is a known reality that all leaders make mistakes, but the difference between those that continue to lead and those that are removed from leadership roles is practicing the needed courage to own and move past mistakes. This speaks to ownership and just as you claim your successes, you must also claim your failures.

    3. Drive Forward – Living in the past prevents us from moving forward. Reflection of past mistakes and successes provides us with a positive path forward, however continually reliving the past and playing “what if” scenarios can cause stagnation. At some point you have to put the past where it belongs so that you and your team can move forward. The Seahawks may have reduced their winning season to a 20 second mistake, but they, and us alike, have a new day tomorrow. This speaks to adaptability – having the vision to see what is behind and using that to fuel forward progress.

Along with the other experts in the barbershop that day, I’m still irritated by Coach Carroll’s last play call, and through our discussions we have each convinced ourselves that we would not have made that same mistake. But more importantly we each understand that the nature of success’ pursuit is each reward has some risk associated with it; with any big win there may also be big losses. This year’s Super Bowl taught me that whether we are rookies or veterans, we always need to be open to learning. Mistakes are nothing more than learning opportunities, and owning our mistakes allows us to make MODifications in our leadership strategies.

Take Action: When faced with a learning moment, decide today to admit error, own it out loud, and push forward on to bigger and better.

Leadership on the Go…It’s O.N.



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As the driving force behind Interstate’s technology strategy, Onyeka Nchege brings more than 20 years of experience to lead the creation and implementation of new information systems and solutions for the enterprise. He believes leadership requires vision, curiosity, humility and a constant hunger for improvement—the same four components fueling his passion for information technology. Before joining Interstate in 2015, Onyeka led teams at Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated, where he modernized technology practices and powered business processes for daily, on-the-street use. He is a graduate of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University and currently serves on the EVANTA Dallas CIO Governing Body. If Onyeka were not at Interstate, he’d find another way to combine his three biggest passions: his faith, helping others, and, of course, information technology. Because ultimately, as he puts it, “we can’t help everyone, but everyone can always help someone.”
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar J.Farewell February 16, 2015 at 9:00 am

….a most assured way to remain humble, continued pursuit of success after failure…..application of the MODification thought is very encouraging…thanks my friend!!!…keep O.N.!!!!

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avatar Onyeka Nchege February 16, 2015 at 9:38 am

Thanks Jay. Much appreciated. You know I strive to be like my broda.

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avatar Chermaine Forte February 16, 2015 at 11:39 am

MODification Monday! Awesome read

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avatar Onyeka Nchege February 16, 2015 at 11:48 am

Thanks Chermaine. I absolutely appreciate that you take the time to share the posts with your network. I don’t take that for granted. Much appreciated.

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avatar Paris February 18, 2015 at 11:07 am

Great points! Love the use of the acronym. I often struggle with the ‘Drive forward’ – I tend to beat myself up after a mistake, start questioning myself and my abilities bringing my forward momentum to a crawl! This article is a great call out to folks. I would also encourage people to remind them that if they aren’t making mistakes they just aren’t trying hard enough. I believe the risk of doing nothing is much greater than the risk of making a mistake. Some of the greatest life lessons and personal growth have come to me as the result of a mistake!

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