Failure is good. It’s fertilizer. Everything I’ve learned about coaching, I’ve learned from making mistakes.
One reason God created time was so there would be a place to bury the failures of the past.
More often than any of us would like to admit, there are three small words that express the truth of our lives: “I blew it!” In lighter moments, far removed from the reality of the failure, we may simply rename our mistakes “Experience” but the cold hard facts of life cannot be erased — we are all imperfect, faulty, mistake-prone people.
As much as we’d like to deny it, our leadership lives are also marked by failures. Failure is an undeniable truth of leadership. We all have and will continue to make mistakes in judgment, errors in decision making and failures in leading and directing those around us. Often our mistakes are minimal with minor ramifications. Other times, however, they are costly, humiliating and demoralizing having serious consequences. Now of course a leader should strive not to fail, but a person can fail and still be a good leader. Ultimately, your success isn’t based on “avoiding” failure, but on facing failure correctly.
In the next post we’ll examine how to survive failure, but the first step in dealing with our failure is to understand why the mistakes occurred. Mistakes usually fall into the following categories:
1. Panic prompted mistakes
Some mistakes are the result of reacting to the tyranny of the urgent. In a moment of fear or panic, we make a decision that we might not normally make if we would have had the time to think through our options. Examine the reaction of 10 of the 12 spies in Numbers 13-14. Their response illustrates this.
2. Good intentioned mistakes
As a leader most of the time our intentions our honorable. However, that does not guarantee they are always right and error free which is exactly what happened to Moses in Exodus 2.11-12.
3. Passive negligence mistakes
Often we are not as actively involved in the leadership process as we should be, resulting in mistakes caused by neglect. Eli, David and Samuel were each guilty of this in their roles as fathers.
4. Unrestrained curiosity mistakes
We know what happened to the cat because of its curiosity, but do we recognize we can also fall victim to the same temptation? That describes Saul’s conduct in 1 Samuel 28.
5. Blind spot mistakes
Most times we are simply not aware of our own weaknesses which cause us to see things through spiritual and leadership cataracts. In Exodus 18 Jethro was able to see things that were totally oblivious to Moses. Many people – especially leaders – see failure as their worst enemy. But our greatest problem is not that we make mistakes, it’s that we often fail to learn from them! Successful people recognize that failures, when treated properly, can lead to great success.
Samson is known not only for his strength but also for his moral failure. We are well aware of how he toyed and eventually capitulated to moral temptation. But one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible is found in the narrative of his life. Judges 16.22 records that “…the hair of his head began to grow again….” There were definite consequences and ramifications to Samson’s failure. Never again would he occupy a position of national leadership. But through forgiveness and restoration, that was not the end of his impact. Although he would never again see through physical eyes, his spiritual eyes had never seen things clearer!
Failures will occur in your leadership life. But successful leaders don’t avoid failure, they handle it successfully. Learn from your mistakes and realize that failure is neither final nor fatal.
Stay the Course,
Dr. Greg Morris
Gregory K. Morris, Ph.D. is the founder and president of Leadership Dynamics, a non-profit corporation committed to the training and development of Christian leaders and their organizations. He has authored In Pursuit of Leadership. For more information, visit LeadershipDynamics.org