11 Leadership Lessons I Learned From Failure

Failure is a part of life. It is not a question of if you will fail. You will. The question is what will you do with failure? How will it change you? How will failure make you better? But rest assured, we will all experience failure.

Ken Coleman says about failure in his wonderful leadership book One Question, “They [consistently successful people] have all learned more from failure and setbacks than from any of their mountaintop moments.” He concludes with this great insight, “Every great winner is also a great loser.”

I want to be a great winner and so do you. This means we must learn to be great losers. We must all be able to successfully deal with failure. And I have had my share.

The following are 11 Leadership Lessons I Have Learned From Failure:

1. I Desperately Need Jesus Christ in My Life. There a significant gap between my skills, competencies, abilities and what God wants to accomplish in my life. I desperately need Jesus Christ to fill in the gap. I am not good enough to accomplish a God-sized task through my human efforts.

2. Listen to My Spouse. The Holy Spirit speaks through my wife. One of my greatest failures was when I went against her career advice, causing our family to be thrust into financial peril. God gives our wives a sixth sense about things that could harm us. We better listen.

3. Don’t Quit. I once quit something when it became too tough. I wasn’t man enough to handle it. God teaches us things about both Himself and ourselves during difficult situations. Quitting short-circuits the process.

4. The Need for Continual Improvement. We never fully arrive as leaders. There are times I am simply not good enough. I have to get better. I must improve my skills.

5. I Cannot Rescue People. There are simply some relationships in our lives that need to end. I am not God and I am not their Savior. Holding onto people too long has cost me personally and organizations I have worked for dearly over the years. Make the hard choice and cut people loose.

6. Play to Your Strengths. I once took a job outside my skill set. It did not last long. Today, I talk to pastors. This is what I do. It is all I know how to do. I pray I get continue to doing so the rest of my working days.

7. Little Things Make a Big Difference. There are no shortcuts to success. Leaders must be thorough and finish things they begin with excellence.

8. Keep My Mouth Shut. Leadership comes with a microphone. Therefore, we are great communicators. Leaders can win most arguments they are in. While we may win the argument, we can often lose the relationship. I have lost many over the years.

9. The Only Difference Between Anger and Danger Is The Letter “D.” Back in the mid-’90s I was part of a church leadership meeting containing approximately 75 volunteer leaders. The conversation turned to the “immature and rude” young people who were misbehaving in our services. As the conversation was gaining momentum amongst many seasoned Christians (I am being nice) in the room, I became angrier and angrier. I reached a boiling point and then proclaimed, “Well, your services are boring. QUIT BORING THEM!” Big mistake. I was right (see point #8) but lost a tremendous amount of influence. I have done my most irreparable damage when I have been angry.

10. Short-Term Thinking Regarding Relationships. Do not burn bridges. I once had a supervisor tell me, “Brian, be careful whose toes you step on. They may one day be attached to the a#* you one day have to kiss.” Brilliant advice and a great word picture. I made some mistakes in this area, but as I have gotten older, I have also been the recipient of blessings from relationships made decades earlier.

11. I Didn’t Fail Enough. John Maxwell once said, and I am paraphrasing, the biggest mistake he ever made was he did not make enough of them  He should have taken more risks. As I have gotten older, I know exactly what John means.

What lessons have you learned from failure?