Failing Forward

Failing LeadershipSomehow, somewhere, I will fail today as a leader.

You need to hear that. I need to hear that. We all fall short of perfection as leaders. One of the things that sets exceptional leaders apart from all the rest is how they manage their failures.

The important question isn’t “will I fail?” The important question is:

How will I respond when I fail?

Will I deny it?
Will I gloss over it or downplay it’s significance?
Will I make excuses, blaming someone or something else?
Will I make hollow promises about “the next time”?
Will I let it crush my self-confidence?
Will I give up or give in?


Will I admit my mistake and accept responsibility?
Will I allow myself to feel sick to my stomach?
Will I apologize to those who deserve it?
Will I correct it and work to prevent a repeat failure?
Will I choose to trust myself and others?
Will I keep leading, keep serving?

The answer to that question – How will I respond when I fail? – truly reveals the kind of leader I am. The place where I’m failing is the place I’m learning, growing, and improving as a leader.

How are you at failing forward as a leader?

7 thoughts on “Failing Forward”

  1. I think this failing forward is a skill you acquire over time.

    When I was young, it was all about not getting the blame or getting caught. In the infamous words of Ralphie Parker, “We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught.”

    But as someone who has worked in environment where others were quick to throw me (and others) under the bus to save their own skin, I have seen firsthand, how toxic that environment can be. And how it can suck the joy right out of a room. And out of a person. And when you are in that environment, where mistakes aren’t tolerated, you are automatically set up to fail. Because you are afraid to try in the first place.

    So, now that I am a leader, I try to take a step back when I make a mistake and think about course correction before I do something in a panic. I am a quick responder, so therefore I force myself to institute a static and stillness policy before I react..or over-react! It’s sometimes painful to make myself be still and silent for a time (be it 10 seconds or 10 minutes) but it allows me to really process things before I make a rash decision that might make things worse.

    We had an incident today that previously would have gotten me all worked up and stressed out. It took courage for my employee to come to me with this problem. And because I admire her for her honesty regarding the issue, I felt compelled to try and rectify things as best I could without a) demeaning an already upset employee and b) without hollering and complaining and playing the victim card.

    Make no mistake, the issue will be addressed and changes will be made to avoid a repeat of today’s problem in the future. But what we need to do now is harvest the lesson so we learn how to avoid it in the future. The real question isn’t who is to blame but WHAT DID WE LEARN from this experience that we can apply the next time around?

    Moving forward, I am sure my team will still make mistakes. I am sure I will still make mistakes too as their leader. I just hope we all make new mistakes. Because there is no sense in repeating the old ones, right?

    1. Thanks for sharing, Cari. And thanks for striving to create an environment where it’s safe to fail – and therefore safe to try. That always sounds good, but I know it’s not always easy when your the leader.

      Here’s to making new mistakes!

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