corporate employee

By Rieva Lesonsky

As everyone from first-graders to college seniors heads back to school this (and next) month, it’s natural to think about the lessons we do—and don’t—learn from school. Unfortunately, I think, most schools teach you some things you’ll need to know in life and a lot of things you won’t ever need to worry about, like how to measure the size of a rhombus.

There’s long been a debate in the entrepreneurial community about whether entrepreneurs should go to business school. While some advocate skipping college altogether, others insist a college education is important, no matter how brilliant your ideas are. But what about business school? Is it worth going?

Of course you can ask 1,000 entrepreneurs that question and get 1,000 different answers. If you want to go to business school—far be it from me to talk you out of it. But I recently read a book by Christian A. Brickman. In The Brilliance in Failure, Brickman, who currently is the CEO of Sally Beauty and who has a very illustrious corporate career, argues that “failure is inevitable” and instead of hanging our heads in shame when we make mistakes, we should learn from our failures and move on. You likely won’t find a course that teaches that perspective in business school.

Brickman very candidly addresses the mistakes he’s made in his career. But one of the things that really stood out to me was how, despite being “intensively competitive, enthusiastic, inquisitive” and hardworking, Brickman left college without understanding how the real world of business works.

He almost blew his first job offer from a prestigious consulting firm because he spoke about a job offer to employees of the company before it was finalized.

A lot of what is taught in schools is theoretical. It’s about case studies or hypotheticals. (I want to be clear, that’s not true of all schools.) They may teach you how to succeed, but not how to fail.

Failure is one of the most important lessons we can learn. Failure teaches you what to do—and not do—the next time. Henry Ford famously said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Brickman echoes that theme in The Brilliance in Failure. There’s a lot to learn in this book, whether or not you went to business school. For instance Brickman talks about how good—and great—leaders “release their agendas.” He points out that among those in senior leadership (and I would add many entrepreneurs) “humility is not typically a strong suit.” Being overconfident, Brickman argues, stops people from listening and seeking to learn from others.

If you’re the kind of leader who “walks into every meeting and tells the team what to do” Brickman says (and I agree) you’re taking a “dangerous approach…because,” Brickman writes, “the business world is changing so fast…you need to constantly [hear] new ideas…in order to stay current and fresh.” Instead, Brickman advises, let go of your agenda and “look to learn.”

That’s a big theme of Brickman’s. He writes, “The best leaders strive to build learning into everything they do.”

Another important lesson Brickman shares is “show up with passion and energy every day.” When I ran a department of 37 employees, attitude was everything. You can teach people how to do “stuff” but you can’t teach them to be positive and care about what they’re doing.

Brickman is all about the team. “Great leaders,” he says, “are servant leaders, not dictators.”

Brickman believes, and this is likely something you won’t learn in business school, that building a successful business is about a lot of things. It’s about always listening and learning. It’s about understanding your failures are every bit as important (and maybe more) as your successes. But it’s not about you—it’s never about you.