All Great Leaders Fail

All Great Leaders Fail

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Is it possible to be a great leader and fail? Let’s go on the assumption that you are an effective leader. You meet the definition of Leader not just through a title but also through action. Even so, the fact is all great leaders sometimes completely miss their goals and fail. Why is that?! The greatest, most impactful leaders actually fail often and a lot. How is that possible, you may wonder?

Over the years I have had experience working with some great and some not-so-great leaders.  I will concede that great leaders achieve their objectives more often than not. What is the secret to their success? In my opinion, it boils down to the following:

  • Ability to Visualize
  • Planning
  • Transparency and Directness

Great leaders have the ability visualize their end game. They view the organization as pieces on a chess board. They know what moves to make and are usually three steps ahead. They know exactly when to make each move and what to expect. They not only predict the expected outcomes, they know how those outcomes will translate. They are also methodical, diligent planners. They consider everything from major milestones to how messages will be shared and received by the team. Lastly, they also tend to be transparent and very direct.  Great leaders don’t have time to mess around and they don’t want to waste a minute of your time or theirs tiptoeing around important matters.  

Even so, despite visualizing, planning and being transparent and direct, great leaders will still fail.  You see, most people think of failure as just that – Failure. They will often choose to shy away from any potential failure.  Great leaders, however, view failure as a lesson to be learned. They know with absolute certainty that if they are not periodically falling flat on their faces, they are also not pushing themselves or their teams. Pushing ourselves is critical to growth and success.  Successful, great leaders, therefore, have three more things in common:

  • Take Risks
  • Learn From Mistakes
  • Don’t Play Victim

Leaders must readily take risks.  Core to our belief system in this great country: with risk comes reward.  Great leaders generally take more risks because not only do they know that great reward comes from great risk, they also recognize that this is how they must lead. And when they experience a setback, they don’t shy away from it, they learn from it. I have had plenty of setbacks. Each one gave me the invaluable opportunity to reflect, learn, pick myself up, and grow.  

Great leaders never ever play victim.  They accept risk and failure and when they fail they know it’s on them. They don’t blame their team, the company, or the competition. Bottom line: great leaders take huge risks and they learn from and accept failure as a critical part of successful leadership.

I have a daughter who is very athletic and races across the country as a Triathlete.  Every time she has a race that doesn’t go the way she wants it I ask her, “What did you learn from it?”  She typically knows exactly where she went wrong and will say something like, “I didn’t get the rest I needed this week,” or “I didn’t hydrate well enough.” I then encourage her to tell me about what she did well. Her cycling is very strong and the conversation typically goes something like this: “Wow… you were in the top 3 out of 75 on the bike! What did you learn from that?”  Her classic, teenage response: “Um… going fast is better???” I point out that we have so much we can learn from our mistakes or what we didn’t do right and that we don’t learn anywhere near as much from what we did perfectly.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” -Robert F. Kennedy.

“Do you want to be safe and good, or do you want to take a chance and be great?”  -Jimmy Johnson.

I challenge you to take a hard look at your goals. Are you playing it safe? or are you pushing yourself and your team despite the possibility of failure?  The fact is, that uncomfortable zone is where the greatest leaders choose to set up camp because they know better. Please reach out to us with any questions.  


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