By SANDY CLARKE
There’s no such thing as succeeding without any failures at all in life – that’s the view of Jonathan Yabut, Season 1 winner of The Apprentice Asia.
The multi-award winning marketer served for one year as chief of staff to AirAsia chief, Tony Fernandes, and has since carved out a successful career as a motivational speaker and author, as well as having founded his own management consulting firm.
In 2012, Yabut was among “the top 7 marketers in the Philippines under the age of 35 to receive the 7th Mansmith Young Market Masters Awards”, and is the author of Southeast Asia’s 2015 bestseller From Grit to Great.
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Yabut cuts a sharp figure, coming across like a man to whom success comes easily. He appears confident, self-assured, and astute with a laser-like focus before he even speaks. But it wasn’t always like that for the Filipino, whose success has been built on the back of some tough life lessons delivered to him by the failures he experienced early on in his career.
Having won a cut-throat competitive business reality show, you might think that someone with the business nous of Yabut would be the sort of person who would avoid making disastrous, rookie mistakes. But then, you’d be wrong.
Costly mistake and learning points
During his appearance on Leaderonomics’ Dare to Fail series, he recalls starting out as a management trainee for a telco in the Philippines. As part of a promotions campaign, Yabut’s boss asked him to print two million flyers, which were to be the size of a laptop. The young trainee managed to order the two million flyers – but his order had the flyers down to be the size of calculators rather than laptops. The mistake cost the company the equivalent of RM50,000.
Yabut says of the experience, “At 20, the first thing you think of is ‘Am I going to lose my job?’ The reason why I made the mistake was because I didn’t properly communicate to confirm the size; I didn’t take it seriously – I thought it wasn’t something cerebral to do.
“Every time I succeed in life, I always remind myself that you’re only as good as your last performance and that mistake I made is something that is tattooed on me. I see failure as a reminder that, no matter how high you climb or how far you go – in any position or any achievement – things will always go wrong, and so you always need a plan to prevent them.”
For Yabut, failure is an experience that can make or break you, depending on how you choose to use it. Some people can view failure as an end-of-the-line travesty from which they are sure to never recover, or they can use negative experiences as a means to learn and grow as they advance through their career.
True leader shares the limelight
Yabut challenges anyone to find him a success story where failure doesn’t come into the picture. Rather than being a negative force, failure can often act as a means to develop core values and beliefs in leadership.
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As he was preparing for his first leadership role where he would take charge of a team, he was given the challenge of helping others to develop professionally and enhance their corporate careers. But Yabut soon discovered that he was prone to “hogging the limelight” by, for example, asking someone to prepare presentation slides to be presented to senior management, and then presenting the material himself and gaining the credit.
When he was up for another promotion, Yabut’s boss passed him over. Curious to know why, he asked his boss for feedback.
“She said, ‘You’re very good, but you haven’t yet learnt the value of leadership. It’s not about taking the throne, sitting down and hogging the limelight. Leadership is about taking a step back and making your own people shine.’”
One of the most important lessons he learnt from this particular failure was that, while many people look for and crave attention, effective leaders know how to share the limelight with others so that they can become empowered and, in turn, grow and develop.
Prepare yourself well and be patient
When it comes to developing our own career, Yabut insists that patience and preparation are vital keys to success. In the business world where challenges often arise unexpectedly, being patient and well-prepared will, more often than not, stand us in good stead when we take those challenges on.
Being afraid of failure could very well ensure that we stop growing and moving forward. It’s only when we embrace the possibility of failing, and look to learn from the lessons it provides, that we offer ourselves the possibility to move on to bigger and better things. And there’s no better testament to that than the impressive career of Yabut.
Sandy is a freelance writer who’s had the (mis)fortune of failing under the watch of some intimidating leaders. Thankfully, he has lived to benefit from the lessons that failure provides. To learn to play the role of a CEO through our “A Day in the Life of a CEO” simulation programme, email us at email@example.com. To read some of our other articles based on our video interviews, click here.
Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.