Getting Comfortable With Failure

I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

–Thomas Edison

As a leader, chances are, you’ve had a run-in or two with failure. If not, be patient. I say that not to be pessimistic or to discourage you. I say that to challenge and prepare you for great adventures that lie before you.

Failure. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that word? Unfortunately, some people make the mistake of applying false labels to people who fail. They see them as failures rather than a success in progress.

In his book, Chase The Lion, author Mark Batterson gives an inspiring description of what it means to fail. He writes:

The cure for the fear of failure isn’t success. The cure for the fear of failure is failure in small enough doses that we build up an immunity to it.

God is in the business of helping us overcome our fears, but He often does it by bringing us face to face with our worst fears.

He graciously brings us back to the place of failure, and then, He not only helps us pick up the broken pieces but He also puts them back together again.

That description, especially as it applies to the fear of failure, is an important lesson every leader must learn. As a leader, you will have to face down your failures, and confront them if you want to grow to the next level.

Regardless of where you are in your leadership journey, and wherever that path leads you- be it in business, sales, technology, management, customer service, etc. you must find your cure for failure and build up your immunity to defeat it. Here are a few ways to do it.

Develop a resilient attitude

Developing a resilient attitude is hard work. But most of that battle is won when we change our attitudes.

It reminds me the story of the two shoe salesmen years ago who left for the Caribbean  islands from Chicago. Upon arrival, they discovered that no one wore shoes. One salesman phoned back to the home office and notified them that he was returning to Chicago, “no one here wears shoes,” he said. The other man phoned back to the home office with excitement, “Send more shoes, no one here wears them!” Both men saw the same thing. One through the lens of a negative attitude, the other through a positive one.

The difference between your success and failure will often be determined by your attitude. Develop resilience in this area and you will develop an immunity to failure.

Develop the right perspective

While attitude has to do with how you see yourself in your present circumstances, your perspective is how you see yourself through it. It’s all about thinking long.

Look back on your own history for a moment. Think back to a time when you were going through a challenging or difficult time. Chances are your attitude at the time may not reflect your perspective on it now. The difference is time and distance. It’s much easier to look back at a difficult time you’ve come through than it is to see light at the end of the tunnel when going through it.

Never allow your present fears or failures to cloud your perspective. You will come through your difficult times and with the right perspective you can see them for what they were–stepping stones to your success.

Develop resilient courage

The formula for courage looks like this: A (Attitude) + P (Perspective) = C (Courage). Your ability to face down your fears and recover from a failure takes courage. What will set you apart from your colleagues and give you the advantage over your competitors is courage.

“We don’t develop courage by being happy everyday,” writes Barbara De Angelis, “ We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity”. And this is the place on your leadership journey you must arrive at. It’s when you survive difficult times that you grow strong as a leader.

Resilient courage is developed over time. It’s a process. None of us like failure and we all wrestle with our fears. But failure doesn’t have to fatal or forever. It’s simply a marker on our road to success. Don’t give up!

Favorite quotes on failure:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill

Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.- Og Mandino

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. – Henry Ford

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying. – Michael Jordan

Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails toward success. – C.S. Lewis

Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences.


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Larry Tyler
Larry Tyler

Comfortable NO! Realizing it is OK and that after a pause to reflect I move forward. It like getting wounded in battle. It leaves a scar but wounds heal.

Chris Pehura
Chris Pehura

What I find common about new ideas and repetitive procedures is that both create high levels of fatigue. No one likes to talk about this fatigue, even when it is the root to a lot of different kinds of failure.

Missed a deadline — fatigue.
Not think of a good option during the strategy meeting — fatigue.
Dropping the ball — fatigue.

There are times we need to march, there are times we need to death march, and then there are times where we need rest — and we need lots of it.



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