Why Can’t Leaders Successfully Fail?


Great leaders learn how to successfully fail. In my last post I talked a bit about failure and in this one I want to examine this question—why is it that will all that is written about the benefits of failure so many leaders struggle to allow their people or organizations to “fail successfully”?

The following reasons have been given at one time or another:

  • “It has to be somebody’s fault.” Many organizations fear failure and to compensate for their fears, leaders often create a culture of blame. Something goes wrong and immediately the leadership looks for someone or something to blame. Nobody takes personal responsibility; it’s much easier to find someone to blame.
  • “We expect perfection.” Although most leaders certainly grasp the possibility of failure, they still don’t like the concept. In their hearts they simply cannot tolerate anything but an absolute zero-defects mentality. They really seem to believe that if their people really try they will not fail. The leaders are either embarrassed by failure, too proud to admit failure, or do  not want the mess that some failures can cause.
  • “We’ve always done it this way.” Some leaders are stuck in the past. They may have won big back in the good old days and now that shining moment is enshrined in their mental hall of fame. A huge past mistake can have the same result; leaders no longer trust their judgement and can’t move ahead boldly.

Veteran leadership expert Tom Peters once wrote, “The goal is to be more tolerant of slip-ups.” Failure isn’t an end-all, in many cases it’s a beginning that creates new, unexpected and different solutions.

Do yourself a favor and don’t just become acquainted with failure: Make it your friend.



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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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