How Do I Lead When I Fail?

I’ve worked with executives in a range of fields, from the entertainment industry to advertising. I’ve seen a lot of incredible successes, but I’ve also seen my fair share of spectacular failures. And what I’ve noticed is that failure brings out the best and worst in leaders. It’s when the blaming and complaining starts, but it’s also when the best leaders do their best work.

While it would be easy to give you a list of 5 things great leaders do when they fail, the biggest difference actually comes down to one thing.

They own it.

They admit that they failed; they look failure in the eye; they come to terms with it; and they feel all the anger, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and grief that comes along with it.

And they don’t just do this when things don’t work out. They actually start from here.

Before they begin the project and take the risk, they accept that failure is part of leading. They know the plans won’t always pan out and they come to terms with that.

What’s even more amazing is that they do this without losing any of their enthusiasm. They aren’t like some founders that are all hype and talk, whose egos are so fragile any mention of defeat will cause them to collapse. Rather, they look at failure right in the eye and smile.

It’s not that they know they’ll be successful — they know success is always a mix of skill and luck — they simply choose to be responsible for leading if that happens. They choose to lead if the storm comes. They choose to lead no matter what.

It’s so simple and yet what so many leaders miss. Leadership isn’t really about leading when things go well. It’s about leading no matter how things go.

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Executive coach and writer. I’ve toured with rock bands, trained as a zen monk, and taught preschool. My hope is that my writing makes you think.

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Toku McCree

Toku McCree

Executive coach and writer. I’ve toured with rock bands, trained as a zen monk, and taught preschool. My hope is that my writing makes you think.

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