Failing to Let Go of a Bad Idea


Leaders need to let go of the flawed idea that in making your way through life only success is of any value.

The truth is that one of the most “successful” things a leader can ever learn is how to profit from a good failure. Let’s face it, reality teaches us that failure is inevitable. Since this is the case, those of us who are leaders better learn how to accept failure and make the most of it.

Everybody makes mistakes, including great leaders. Nobody—repeat nobody—normally gets it right the first time (most of us don’t get it right the second, third, or fourth times either!). Winston Churchill said it best: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” This was born out in Churchill’s own life and in his political career in Great Britain when he blew one assignment after another. Finally, as prime minister during World War II, he faced the greatest leadership challenge of his career as he tried to hold together a struggling nation under the constant threat of bombings, lack of provisions, and fear. Having learned from past mistakes, he rose to the challenge and saved his country.

Consider the record of several successful people who maintained great enthusiasm while failing repeatedly:

  • Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times while hitting 714 home runs.
  • R.H. Macy failed in the retail business before he got it right with his department store in New York City
  • Theodor S. Geisel (Dr. Seuss) had his first children’s book rejected by 23 publishers in a row. The 24th accepted the manuscript and it’s sold well over 6 million copies.

Why is it that with all that is written about the benefits of failure, so many leaders struggle to allow their people or organizations to “fail successfully”?

Whatever the root (and we’ll discuss a few in my next post) cause of such an executive mind-set may be, it creates crushing, unrealistic expectations for leaders and their employees.


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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