Failing at leadership on the surface might seem to be somewhat of an oxymoron, but as we explore this phenomenon as a reality of leadership, we will discover that failing at leadership has spurred many leaders and entrepreneurs to greatness. History is replete with men and women who in spite of their failures, persevered to greatness.
Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper company because he lacked imagination and good ideas; Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a television reporter because she was unfit for TV; Abraham Lincoln went to war as a captain and returned as a private; Harland David Sanders’ famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it; and the Wright brothers, after several years of hard work and tons of failed prototypes, created a plane that could remain airborne.
In his book, “Your Road Map for Success,” John Maxwell states, “Success doesn’t mean avoiding failure — we all fail. So the real issue is not whether we’re going to fail. It’s whether we’re going to fail successfully (profiting from our failures).”
In order to do this we must evaluate our mistakes, assess our processes, make the necessary adjustments and try again. The cost of failure can vary widely in resources, personnel and mission effectiveness. So leaders should plan well to be effective but realize that failing is a reality.
Several years ago, I took the four lenses personality trait class offered by Shipley Communication. I learned that I have strong orange traits, traits that characterize people who are often not afraid to fail.
As self-assuring as this may be, it can spell disaster if one loses focus or becomes self-absorbed with leadership successes. As a pharmacist, I must remain vigilant in filling prescriptions as not to fail you, but at the same time I must not allow the chance or an occasional failure to become so debilitating that I’m no longer effective as a leader.
When we fail, we must not blame others, repeat the same mistake, expect to never fail again or think of ourselves as failures — that’s failing backwards. Instead we must fail forward by taking responsibility, learning from each mistake, maintaining a positive attitude and persevering.
Failing at leadership for many, even powerful leaders, is refusing to accept the fact that they have shortcomings, weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Bill George, author of “True North,” stated in the forward to Steven Snyder’s book “Leadership and the Art of Struggle (How Great Leaders Grow through Challenge and Adversity),” that on a personal level it took him many years to openly acknowledge his shortcomings, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For that reason he wound up withholding “the real me” from his work colleagues, coming across as super confident, aggressive and completely focused on business results.
With that denial, leaders rob themselves of opportunities for deep introspection and a clearer understanding of themselves. Only in acknowledging our own flaws and vulnerabilities can we become authentic leaders who empower people to perform to the best of their abilities.