For most leaders, failure is the enemy. A failed program, a failed public event, a failed critical relationship, a failed (or falling) attendance record–we abhor them all. To fail means something has gone wrong. It activates all kinds of alarm bells inside us, complete with spotlights and guard dogs dispatched to sniff out the flaw:
• Is God not pleased with me?
• Is there sin in the camp?
• Are we missing God’s will? Did we mishear him?
• Is it the enemy’s fault?
• Am I a bad leader?
• Is my team to blame? Did they drop the ball somewhere?
For many leaders, failure (however they define it for their specific situation) is the one great Intolerable Outcome that they’ll do anything to avoid. After all, if they fail, might that mean that God didn’t choose them after all…that they’ve been mishearing God all this time? (That is many leaders worst secret fear).
But great leaders don’t fear failure. They include it as a normal facet of what great leadership creates. In fact, some of them even celebrate it. Here are just a few reasons why.
Great leaders know that…
- Failure is essential to growth. As anyone who’s been to a gym will tell you, your body doesn’t grow stronger or healthier unless you regularly, systematically push it to failure. The same is true for the spiritual Body we call the Church.
- The freedom to fail without punishment is essential to creativity. You (and your team) can never be truly creative or bold unless you are given the freedom to fail spectacularly. Ever wonder why the Church so rarely leads the culture in innovation or the arts? This is a big reason why. We don’t take truly bold creative risks because we erroneously believe that failure equals missing God’s will. But what if the process of failure and learning is actually central to God’s will?
- Failure is not final. It’s a surprise bend in the road. Every good story has them. Great leaders know that living a great story is more desirable than always getting everything right.
- Failure is not a sign of God’s disapproval. It’s a normal, healthy part of any process of discovery. And if the Church isn’t in a process of discovery, then it isn’t really growing at all.
- Failure is an unavoidable tool God uses to shape leaders. There is not a single leader God has ever called who has not had to grow through significant failure in order to become all God intended. Great leaders know this fact, and have stopped resisting it.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~ Denis Waitley
What is your relationship with failure? Do you abhor it? Tolerate it? Deny it? Try to hold it at bay? What if you actually celebrated it as an essential aspect of growth? What would that open up for you and your leadership?