Learning from Failure

If you are a leader, failure is in your future. Don’t worry about it, embrace it. Trust me, you will look back at your failures and remember fondly how you navigated your way out of them, what you learned from them, and how you grew because of them. Failure has a funny way of shaping you into a remarkable leader.

Whether apocryphal or not I want to share a story with you. It is a difficult story, but it’s one you need to hear. It is the story of a father and son who—for the son’s 16th birthday—decided to experience a right-of-passage type adventure to mark the boys transition to manhood. This special time took them on a difficult hike in the high eastern Sierra’s of California. 

At one point on the hike, the son slipped from the narrow pass onto a large, steep slope of shale. As the son was trying to regain his balance he began to run faster and faster trying not to fall. To his horror, his father could see that at the end of the shale slop was a cliff and the father began to yell at the top of his voice “FALL DOWN!” In his desperation, he was waving his hands in the air, “SPREAD YOU ARMS, SPREAD YOUR LEGS, FALL FALL!!!” 

In his fear of falling, and being incapable of seeing the cliff, as his father looked helplessly the son plummeted to his death.


As a leader, there will be times when you need to spread your arms and legs and hit the ground in failure. In those moments, DO IT QUICKLY. You may actually survive the fall. In other words, you are going to fail. Every good leader does. So, when you do fail, FAIL FAST.

Once you hit the shale, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, review, reflect, and learn from your fall. Then head back on the trail applying what you’ve learned. In the end, you’ll look back at what you survived and you will smile. With some reflection and some time you will be happy that you fell, and best of all, you will be a better leader for it.

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Bad News

Now, here is a conflicting thought… Have you considered that—for the leader—Bad News is actually Good News.

Think about it. If you are leading well, your staff has the confidence that they can bring the bad news to you as regularly as they bring the good. If however, you’re a leader that is finding out things have gone wrong… and it is too late to fix them, the breakdown is not with your people, the deficiency is with you.

Trust is the single most valuable possession that a leader has. The ability for your people to communicate problems, or forecast potential problems, is created when they trust your integrity as a leader. If they feel they can bring things to you and tap your wisdom for their solutions you will win the hearts and trust of your people. Furthermore, you will avert disaster, and increase motivation within your organization. You will also solidify your legacy as a quality leader.

If on the other hand, your people fear bringing issues to you because your normal reaction is accusatory, questioning, condemning, frustrated or angry, you have created an environment that will destroy trust and ultimately harm your organization. 

Take a minute. What do your people proactively bring to you? Is the report always a good one? Do they eagerly report the negative things? Do you only “find out” about the bad after it has occurred? As you try to discover why that is… perhaps you simply need to look in the mirror.

Allow me encourage you to talk to your people. Build their trust. Let them know that you are open and that you will reward the discovery of problems and their ideas for solutions. Show them in your reaction that you will honor those words. It takes a hundred repeated mature responses to gain an individuals trust, but it only takes one immature response to destroy it.

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Innovate or Die

Innovation continues and that is a very good thing. I love innovation. The only thing I love more is innovation that is Entrepreneurially Disruptive! (think how Uber disrupts the Taxi monopoly). Each and every one of us looks forward to new advances. However, we hate change. This makes little or no sense.

Could it be that we trumpet change as “innovation” when it is change that we like, but strip the word from our vocabulary when it is change that we don’t?

I think so.


You need to ruminate on this fact. As a leader, your direct reports will herald change as innovation as long as it means their routine does not need to change, their comfort isn’t threatened, or their skillsets are not put to the test. As a leader, you will need to mitigate that with full disclosure and instruction, training sufficient to ease the worries, and the full revelation as to why this new change will make things better—not only for you—but for them as well.

I laugh sometimes at the pushback we get as we implement new system changes. Knowing that there are rough waters ahead, but new productivity and efficiency await past the rapids. Change eventually makes everyone’s life more efficient, but there will always be those who chose to stay with the old ways and suffer hours of frustration because they refuse to take the hour or two to learn.

I love the picture above. Many of our direct reports chose to lay in the path of danger to use the current systems… I’ll take the GoPro.

Missing the Mark

Mitad del Mundo

In 1736 French explorers set out on an expedition ordered by the King to prove or disprove the prevailing theory of the day, that the earth was not perfectly round but oval in shape, with the circumference at the equator being smaller than if measured through the earth’s poles. Two teams were dispatched, one to the north pole, the other to the north of Quito Ecuador. Triangulation was done in the Andes along the tops of Ecuador’s many volcanos, measurements were made, and the exact middle of the earth was marked. Today we call it the equator, and those French explorers marked the very spot at San Antonio de Pinchincha approximately half the distance between Quito and Ecuador’s northern border with Colombia. Much effort went into these measurements and the marking of the earth’s center was heralded as the greatest human accomplishment of its day.

In 1978 a huge monument was constructed at the very spot where these explorers had marked. Several Interpretive Centers and Museums surround the great granite monument and it is today one of the major tourist attractions for those visiting Quito. Thousands come each year to straddle the line, one foot in the Northern Hemisphere, the other in the Southern. The tragedy, unbeknownst to these thousands of tourists…

The monument is in the wrong spot!

All that work, thousands of visitors who never actually accomplished their goal of straddling the equator, the cost of constructing the monument, all for naught! Problematic mapping datum and current GPS technologies have shown that the actual equator is 240 meters to the north. Thousand of tourists, coming from Quito have failed in their endeavor because of faulty information.

As leaders, we must remember to acquire all available data before making a decision. To check and double check the facts. We must intimately know our current reality and embark upon our quest with adequate tools and resources to accomplish the task with excellence. If we fail to commit to these foundational actions we also run the risk of…

Building the Monument while Missing the Mark.


So what now? How does Ecuador solve the problem? They don’t! They propagate the lie. Thousands still come. They pay for this adventure and are not even aware they have been deceived. You see, the monument is too costly to relocate or to move. It makes for nice pictures!

Ask yourself…

How vested are you in a lie?

Is it time to do the right thing?

What happens when they find out the truth?

We must be leaders of integrity.


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