Today, I failed gloriously.
I sat at the computer, ready to share twelve awesome leadership principles I’ve learned from two tiny churches. There were great insights into the power of being neighborly and the one thing every good leader should always welcome (spoiler alert: it’s prayer). Trust me, I needed prayer as I stared at the words on the screen. It wasn’t that the concept was a bad one. It wasn’t that there weren’t some great ideas being typed onto the page.
It wasn’t a writing problem at all. No, today I failed gloriously at numbers.
You see, I miscounted those principles and came up short by two, or three if you count the one that in retrospect wasn’t distinct enough to stand on its own.
I write leadership articles all the time, I thought. I’ve even got a book coming out that lauds the influence and impact of women around the world. Surely, I’ve got three more ideas to add.
But the more I labored, the more laborious things became. The words felt forced and inauthentic. And so, I chose to do something different.
I chose to fail. For you.
You see, I’ve been writing about leadership principles here at QARA for two years, and I’m given liberty to find new ways to share faith-infused insights each month. There are a lot of words about pressing on and pursuing excellence. But rarely are there words about the power of failing.
And if we want to lead well, you and I need to learn to fail gloriously. Here are twelve reasons why failure is good for us:
1. Let’s begin with this: failure happens.
It’s true. We’re all going to fail at things. As long as we’re learning and trying, we will fail. We will stumble and we will rise, and we will try again. We’re in good company. I promise.
Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success. ~C.S. Lewis
2. Failure helps us see what’s really important.
At its core, failure is simply feedback. We’ll talk next about failure being a teacher, and it is also a faithful informer of where our focus should be. Given an opportunity, failure can help us reset our priorities. For example, my failure allowed me to consider the greater purpose in the articles I write—to provide authentic and honest encouragement to help you be a better leader. Suffering a creative misstep does not nullify that purpose. In fact, it reinforces it.
3. Failure is a great teacher.
Without failure, we’ll never know if there’s a better way.
When I first learned how to ride a bike, I thought I knew how to use the brakes properly. I quickly (and painfully) learned there was a better way to stop after tumbling over the handlebars when tapping on the front brake only. When I was given my first opportunity to be a manager, I thought I knew exactly what to do. I made lists and lots of rules. I thank God now for every fumble I made that taught me there was a better and more purposeful way to care for people and projects and passions. Every failure is a lesson learned.
4. Failure makes us stronger.
Taking the next step after a misstep builds the muscles of resilience and character. Every time we rise after failing, we rise with heightened focus and clarity because of our experience.
5. Failure makes us more aware.
Falling face-first on the ground lets us see the gravel we failed to notice in our rush to win the race. Failure helps us become more aware of our surroundings, so we become responsive.
6. Failure builds bravery.
Living in a culture that is success-driven, we can become terrified of anything but sure bets. When we view failure not as an enemy to success but as a natural part of growth, the strength we are given bolsters our courage to take calculated risks and dream new dreams.
7. Failure helps grow endurance.
Our success-driven culture is enamored by quick results. Failure is a very real reminder that true success takes time and patience and practice. One win does not equal a championship season. One great decision does not equate to wisdom. Failure tempers us and helps us set a better pace.
8. Failure keeps us humble.
We’ve all had a moment when we misjudge our value or abilities, and sometimes, it can royally backfire. But if you find yourself being dumped, take heart in what Neel calls ‘dissolution of the ego’. Failure is a great teacher in learning your own personal limitations and figuring out how to do better next time.
9. Failure grows our wisdom.
A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology revealed that processing our failures in a healthy way results in a higher rate of learning. And that learning can qualify us to not just be better mentors as we lead. Because of what failure has taught us, we are better equipped to help others to focus and find creative approaches to challenges.
10. Failure makes us relatable.
Failure not only builds our character and grows our wisdom; it creates common ground for those who also hunger for success and fulfillment. We can honestly say, “I’ve been there too,” when we are providing encouragement. We can offer road-tested insights. And we instill confidence in those we are leading.
11. Failure opens new doors.
Failure can often become a beginning for us when we take the time to reflect on what we’ve learned. Sometimes the beginnings are bold, like a new job or a fresh start. And sometimes the beginnings are subtle yet just as profound—a new way of looking at a career, or the spark of an emerging dream, or a different perspective on the way we invest our time.
12. Failure opens our eyes to hope.
One thing is certain. Failure isn’t final. As C.S. Lewis says, it is a “finger post on the road to achievement.” It teaches us, strengthens us, emboldens us, awakens us, humbles us. It gives us wisdom and compassion. It opens our eyes and our hearts to the promise of better days. We can move forward with hope. And as leaders, we can share that hope with others.