5 Ways Failure Makes You A Better Leader

by | Apr 27, 2015

Every leader I know wants to get it right. We have incredibly high expectations for ourselves .

We pretty much think we should do it well and get it right the first time – every time.  As a result, we often expect the same from those we lead.

 So… how’s that working for you?

Today is “Mastering Mondays” where we tackle often experienced but not often talked about personal and professional issues affecting leaders… leaders in homes, businesses, and ministries.

Some years ago, when we lived in Vancouver BC, I dashed out of my office into the pouring rain to get to a meeting. And, on the way, I got a flat tire.

So, I pull over, get out (in my dress shirt, slacks & dress shoes) grab the spare, jack the car up and quickly change the tire. Totally soaked, I jump back in the car and speed off to my appointment.

Suddenly, the car starts shaking and shuddering and swerving all over the road– and then there’s this horrendous metal- scraping -pavement sound and sparks are flying —I end up at a dead stop, headed into oncoming traffic.

Cars whiz by, honking. And, yes, its still pouring down rain.

Apparently, when I put the spare on, I failed to attach the lug nuts properly.

Since I didn’t have a lug wrench (I mean, who carries these things in their car?) and I was in such a hurry -this was eons before cell phones–I just tightened the lug nuts with my bare hands.

 Yeah. I really did that.

My spare tire had fallen off around 50mph. This is where we say the rubber failed to meet the road.

Have the proverbial wheels fallen off something you have given yourself to?   Have you ever intended to do good and it turned out bad?

Do you always expect what you set out to do or assign others to do (i.e. your kids, your team-mates, etc) will be a sucess?

I don’t remember having changed more than one tire previous to that infamous day.  I was still learning.  I didn’t get it right.


Failure MUST be an EXPECTED and ACCEPTED part of every good Success Playbook.


Here are 5 things I now keep as a permanent part of the Success curriculum I use in leading myself and others.

  1.  Remember when Jesus invited us to follow him and be his disciples, he ‘baked’ failure into the recipe.The greek word for “disciple” is “mathetes.”  It means LEARNER.

A Learner who is learning the art of living, loving, and leading from THE rabbi.

Anyone in the learning phase will be prone to make mistakes and fail.

  1.  Remember that the process of learning is the process of figuring something out. It is the process of step by step. It isn’t about performance or perfection, it’s about process.  And process is how we slowly make progress

Most of the time, religion has taught us that discipleship is all about: demands… standards… things to achieve… things to perfect… haven’t done quite enough yet…  (Note: all of which are great for the ongoing growth of our ego).

But that’s not what Jesus is inviting us into.

His discipleship is a grace-filled process.

Check out this astonishing statement in Matthew 26.

Then Jesus told them (his disciples), “This very night you will ALL fall away on account of me… But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  Then Peter and other disciples got incensed that Jesus thought they would fail him. 

Well, we know how that turned out.  Not just Peter, but everyone of the most committed, faithful failed Jesus badly… at what seemed like the worst possible time.

I’ve thought and said similar things:

“There is no way… under no condition will I ever fail in a horrific way.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

And I have been stunned by all Jesus has done in our lives even after such a colossal failure.

What I see Jesus doing with his team, I don’t remember hearing many of the rest of us say to those we’re leading:  Your knowledge and your willpower will not be enough.  You are going to fail.  I know you better than you know yourselves.  But wait!  I’ve made compassionate, grace-filled plans following your failure.  After your ‘fall’, I’ll see you later in Galilee…I’ll see you on the ‘other side’, and all will be well.” 

A few weeks later,…

Jesus commissions the same ones who betrayed him

to lead and multiply His movement. 

That’s unthinkable harvesting from failure.

I’m realizing that as leaders in churches, businesses, and homes

we do a great job of teaching people how to succeed

 but we do a HORRIBLE job at teaching them how to fail! 

I don’t remember the last time I heard a leadership talk or sermon on the fact that:

“Oh, by the way, no matter how devoted or smart you think you are, or how much money you can throw at something or how strong your willpower is —some part of you is going to fail.  More than once. And when you do, it’s not the end of the world.

Mistakes are baked into any good recipe for success.  

Out of our failures our greatest successes will be born.

  1.  Quit obsessively asking yourself: “What was I thinking?”No one has ever faced the unique challenges that you have, while being you.  You literally are the first… so take it easy on yourself.

I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve said “What was I thinking?”… regarding personal, family, and leadership decisions over my lifetime.

Most of those decisions, seemed like the best move at the time… even though some of them turned out not to be. Still, I would not have learned the volume of things that came with those mistakes and misjudgments.

 My failures actually set me up for even truer and better success than I had hoped for.

  1.  Quit listening to the critical and harsh voices in your own head or coming from others.You and I both know when we’ve been royally wrong.

We would give anything to have a “do over.”

Often we can’t. But what we can do is to receive the grace Jesus gave from Day One in the step by step process of learning about living, loving, and leading.

You know the proverbial 3 steps forward, 2 steps back?  Turns out Jesus knew all along, that would be our path… and it would be a path He would walk with us daily… not even stopping us from where we were going… knowing it would actually be this very path- the two steps backward- that would bring about our greatest transformation.

  1.  Own your failures, don’t hide them.  When you fail, your ego will immediately lead you to hide.  Instead, allow the best part of you to take responsibility for whatever didn’t work out, and truly learn from it.

I’ve found that the greater failure is to hide and shame yourself or let others shame you, instead of finding restoration in it.

I wish my tire falling off years ago was the last time I had the ‘wheels come off’ in my life.

But that just isn’t the human story.

As much as I’ve fought to keep my act together and lead well at various times I didn’t have the full information I needed to make a critical hire, or didn’t fully see a part of the ministry that was draining us financially, or I misjudged a moment as being from God and paid dearly for it as people voted otherwise with their feet.

The list goes on. Yours probably does too. And each time it hurt.  Each time there was regret.  Each time I internally beat myself, mercilessly.  But now, I don’t always have to be the smartest guy in the room.

I’m tumbling into the new found freedom of a True Learner.

I am slowly succeeding, and sometimes it’s by failing.

When the ‘wheels’ fall off of whatever you’re doing, know it’s not the end of the world.

(BTW- I’ve nearly perfected the art of changing a tire. I call AAA.)

We’re here to learn alongside you @youlivetrue.com. If you often have the mindset ” failure is not an option.” We need to talk. Call us for a consultation.

And please SHARE this blog with someone you think may be interested.

Question: “What attitudinal shift needs to happen in you, both for yourself and those you lead, when you don’t nail things right the first several times?”








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