My baby boy did not begin walking on his first try. He took a step and fell. He pulled himself up and tried again, and he fell. He repeated this over and over until he successfully navigated the family room.
There was no fear in him then, just determination. Now he runs sprints at practice in high school football. In fact, fear of failure did not stop a single one of us from learning to walk or even run. So why are we scared of failure now? What prevents us from taking risks? Why don’t we dare to fail?
Failure Is The Road To Success
The road to success in life leads through the land of failure. Ask yourself, “Is there anything worthwhile in my life that I did not experience some hardship or pain to achieve?”
Whether it was walking, making the high school football team, graduating from college or maintaining a successful relationship, all of these required hard work, pain, and willingness to step away from our comfort zone. Yet hard work, pain and our comfort zone are the excuses we will make for not attempting something we see as risky.
The fear of making that extra effort, the fear of physical or emotional consequences, or the fear of doing something new can all act like a parking brake when we should be moving forward.
The Failures Of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln’s persistence in the face of repeated failure sets a great example for today’s leaders. Lincoln’s level of success from 1831 and 1859 was down right depressing.
During that twenty-eight year span he had eight failed election campaigns, two failed businesses, one nervous breakdown and one dead girlfriend. Yet in 1860, he became President of the United States, freed the slaves, saved the Union, and left a legacy of leadership that we still refer to today.
If you want to succeed as a leader and if you want your team to experience success, consider these truths:
- An organization takes on the character of its leader.
- A real leader embraces failure and encourages his followers to do the same.
- A real leader creates a culture within his organization where people spend more time trying to find better ways of doing things than they do trying to avoid mistakes.
- If led by someone afraid of failure, an organization will likely be stuck with unmotivated team members, stagnant or declining productivity, and high turnover within the team.
Four Winning Attitudes About Failure
1. Be Willing To Fail
The only leader who never makes a mistake is the leader who never tries anything. A successful leader is not successful because he never makes mistakes; he is successful because he continually learns from his mistakes.
He identifies the patterns, behaviors, character issues, fears, and other factors that caused him to fail and changes them. He sees each misstep as new opportunity.
2. Be Willing To Admit Mistakes
Multiple surveys have shown that the number one trait followers desire in a leader is honesty, not infallibility. Failure is an event, not a character trait.
Covering up a mistake, inability to take responsibility for a mistake, or unwillingness to learn from a mistake is an issue of character. The way a leader handles his own mistakes will set the tone for his organization.
People who are unwilling to admit their mistakes are unfit for leadership.
3. Allow Others To Fail
If a leader never gives his people the latitude to make poor decisions without being chastised or second guessed, they will stop making decisions altogether.
This may seem expedient at first; an insecure leader may want to keep those decisions to himself to avoid mistakes in the short term. But as an organization grows and time passes, these former followers will soon be in positions of leadership.
They will be ill-prepared for the task of making decisions that could impact not only the profitability of the company, but also the future of the organization’s employees and their families.
Experiencing the limited consequences of poor judgment in smaller decisions prepares the developing leaders for the larger decisions that are in their future.
4. Be Willing To Praise Failure
A good leader wants his people to try new things, as long as they are morally acceptable and not against current regulations. He continually communicates his positive expectations of failure. He publicly recognizes risk takers.
Conversely, he never chastises people in public for their mistakes. In fact, during private coaching sessions he congratulates them for their willingness to challenge the status quo. Then he challenges them to identify what they have learned, and what they will do differently next time.
The Bottom Line:
Leaders who encourage failure are encouraging growth. People grow and organizations grow by learning from their mistakes, and growth—not perfection—should be the goal for every person and every organization.
A culture where perfection is expected creates fear of failure followed by the reality of stagnation. A culture where growth is expected releases people to fail grandly.
In this environment people become more than who they currently are and go further than they ever could before. By daring to fail and encouraging those we lead to do the same, determination becomes our dominant trait, and fear disappears.
When has a leader encouraged you to fail? Did you grow under that leader?