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Even When You Fail You Can Win — How Your Stories Are Your Leadership Lessons

Lessons from childhood can make our stories stick with others.

What were you good at when you were 8?” I’ve asked you this question before. So when I heard the VP of M&A at Goldman Sachs (and Ladybadass!), Stephanie Cohen, share her answer on the A16Z podcast, my ears perked up.

Stephanie leads a high stakes strategy of M&A at one of the most powerful financial institutions in the world. Naturally, host Martin Casado asked her lots of questions about how she approaches her work, and Stephanie responded with great insights. She talked about making room for failure and creating opportunities for her teams to learn and pivot along the way— good stuff.

Then, Martin casually asked about her childhood experience as a competitive ice skater, and the episode went from good to awesome. 

Here are the simple but powerful lessons Stephanie shared about ice skating.

  1. When you’re learning, you’re going to fall. Often, you’re going to fall hard.
  2. It’s from getting up after, over and over again, that you learn.
  3. Yes, sometimes you get hurt. Yes, you’re cold, and you’re miserable. But if you keep going, you will break through.
  4. Even when you fail you win. (How so? I’ll let you listen to the podcast to find out—the answer might surprise you!)

The way Stephanie shared her business ideas in the first half of the podcast was on point. But in the context of her story about being an ice skater, her message became unforgettable. It’s been several weeks, and I’m still seeing vivid pictures of her in my mind’s eye as an 8-year-old girl crashing to the cold, hard ice and getting up every single time. 

It didn’t matter that I’m about as far from a professional ice skater as you can get. What Stephanie shared about her childhood experience made her whole story—including the ideas she applies to the being a VP of M&A—stay with me. 

Which brings me back to my question to you.

WHAT WERE YOU GOOD AT WHEN YOU WERE EIGHT? 

Have you used the lessons you learned in your youth to illustrate your story?

If you’re a leader trying to influence someone’s thinking or trying to get ideas and concepts to land with others, you need your most teachable story. Stephanie’s example shows us how much meaning and impact stories about our earliest lessons have.

SO LET’S REACH INTO OUR MEMORIES AND SHARE THEM WITH OTHERS. LET’S USE THOSE STORIES TO LEAD IN A BRAVE NEW WAY.

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