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.

Leader Video

Church Planting Video


I have been listening to a lecture series on Developmental Psychology by Dr. Ray Parker which outlines Maturity with the following six indicators. These may be useful to you in your next lecture, in counseling, or simply to help you understand your people better.

• 1 • Maturity bases action on a long-range basis. Immaturity seeks the immediate. We see this in sexual, narcotic, and personality addictions. The mature individual sees beyond the instant gratification to both the long range stability and the consequences should they immediately gratify.

• 2 • Maturity seeks things as they are, accepting the reality of the present. Immaturity seeks to escape reality rather than deal with the present. The mature understands that growth comes from trials. Those who seek to escape difficulty will never mature.

• 3 • Maturity faces the responsibility of actions and lives up to it. Immaturity seeks to blame others and shirk responsibility. This facing of responsibility has a two-fold effect: Maturing the individual and warning them of future similar actions.

• 4 • Maturity accepts the authority of others. Immaturity seeks unearned authority or to undermine or discount current authoritative persons. Everyone is under an authority and the recognition of the wisdom of others and their position “above us” leads to opportunities for growth and learning.

• 5 • Maturity has a proper knowledge and acceptance of self. Immaturity formulates inflated or unrealistic ideas of self. The mature can realistically determine, with some accuracy, their strengths and weaknesses. The immature will inflate their position, their abilities, or their accomplishments, tending to exaggerate. The immature may also run the opposite path as they see themselves as far less than what they are. Their perception of self is one of worthlessness, inability, and useless.

• 6 • Maturity has the ability to love even when that love is not returned. Immaturity will seek return. The mature loves others because of the love and satisfaction they have in themselves. The immature seeks identity through reciprocation. This reciprocation is foundational to the individual’s self-worth and when not received has a detrimental effect on the emotional and spiritual state of the individual.

Fluent Leadership

Leadership is a language. It is entirely about communication. To be fluent in a language is to be able to communicate effectively as a natural process, convey to others the intent of your words, and enabling the hearer to create action. The bad news is that many who are leaders have not yet acquired the fluency required to precisely convey their desires. This frustrates the direct report and hinders forward progression in the organization. The good news is that fluency can be obtained through practice and saturation.

Think about how a child learns. She surrounds herself with those who know more than she does and mimics their actions. When she sees how one does a specific task, she tries to mimic the action that accomplished it. Though her arms may not have the dexterity or agility of the one she watches, she tries none-the-less. When the parent speaks, though she does not completely understand what is being said, she tries to make the same noises as the parent. Eventually, she will acquire both the physical dexterity and the verbal articulation that she needs to become an articulate woman of action. This takes both time and countless hours of practice.

It is the same with the leader.

If you are new to leadership, you would do well to surround yourself with those who have been in leadership for some time. The more effective the “parent” the better. Begin to mimic the actions that you see in them and apply those actions to your life and organization. Begin to listen to their speech, their vocabulary, and mimic it. It may seem unusual at first, but that is how we learn. Before you know it, you will begin to see that you have become fluent in the language and proactivity of leadership. You will realize that over time you have become a bit of what you have mimicked. Isn’t that how it is with the Christian life? We mimic Christ as we become Christlike. Should it not be the same with leadership?

Perhaps you have been a leader for some time. If so, I have a question for you. Who is mimicking you? Are you mentoring another? Are you equipping the next generation of leader? Regardless of where you are at in your personal leadership journey, remember to surround yourself with godly examples of what you would like to become. Before you know it, what you saw in another someone else will see in you.

I Hope You Fail!

I hope you fail.

Not because I dislike you. Not because I want to be seen as better than you. I simply want you to fail, and fail regularly. Believe it or not, failure is the number one indicator of success. Counterintuitive? You bet… but listen to this.

Successful people fail far more often than unsuccessful people

The reality of failure is inevitable. How you handle it will determine how successful you will be in life. If you allow failure to defeat you and undermine your sense of wellbeing you will probably never—truly—succeed. On the other hand, if you understand that failure is THE pathway to success you will use the rubble of each disaster to build a causeway to greatness.

The key is to train yourself to take Decisive, Specific and Immediate action upon failure. In other words; “Get up and try it again,” or “Try something different.” Those who slump back in disappointment or pity find those emotions to be enslaving.

So let me amend my first statement and say:

I want you to fail, but I want you to fail fast.

Last Note: Don’t keep going when you know failure is imminent. Don’t fall pray to the concerns of what others will say, think, do. Continuing on will result in a bigger mess to clean. Own it. Take pride in it. Start over, try it again, do something different… blow it up if you have to…

Fail until you succeed.

Dumbest Guy in the Room

As an organizational leader, it is really easy to create an environment in which you are always the smartest person in the room. The person “in the know.” Your direct reports look to you for vision and direction and they faithfully carry out the plan. In moments of uncertainty, they look to you and you render your decision. If not kept in check, this environment can unknowingly poison both your perspective of self and your future growth as a leader.

The strategic leader intentionally, and frequently surrounds self with people who are smarter than they are. They relish being “The Dumbest Person in the Room.” They understand that this is where growth happens, where new ideas are generated, and tolerances are stretched into new avenues of creative expression. These new insights tend to be elusive without this intentional process.

Don’t wait until the next time you need insight to find a mentor or coach. Furthermore, don’t find a mentor or coach that is specific to your field. They think like you do. Find someone different, an artist, a theologian, a thespian, an architect or doctor and meet with them regularly. The more unrelated to your life experience the further they will draw you from your box. Besides, it is a pleasant respite to not have all the answers.

And most importantly, remember, ignorance in this case truly can be bliss!

Here is a short video to make the point.