Up In Flames – Facing The Challenges Of Leadership

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

~Winston Churchill

When Thomas Edison’s manufacturing facilities in New Jersey were heavily damaged by fire one night in December 1914, Edison lost almost one million dollars worth of equipment and the record of much of his work.

The next morning, while walking around the charred embers of his hopes and dreams, the 67-year old inventor reportedly said, “There is value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Now we can start anew.”

While the fire that destroyed Edison’s lab can’t be labeled as a “failure”, it was a setback. It was an accident. It was a disaster. But technically it was not a failure per se. Nonetheless, much of his life’s work was consumed in those flames. What would he do next? What would you do?

Life has a way of throwing us curve balls.Things happen that are out of our control and find ourselves in the tension between “what now?” and “why me?”, and life just doesn’t make sense. We look around and all we see are the ashes of a dream and we wonder what the future might look like. (I wrote about facing adversity here).

As leaders we’ve all had some dark moments. And from the account of Edison’s fire, I’d like to give you some encouragement and hope. I want you to see that you are not alone and that there is life after the fire. Here are three things that your challenges can do for your leadership.

It can give you a fresh perspective

“There is value in disaster,” said Edison, as he stood among the ruins of his work. When things are going well for us as leaders it’s easy to have a positive perspective, and why not? It’s easy to be upbeat and positive when your plans are working.

But like Edison, our response in the rubble is where it counts in our leadership. It’s as we look at our best plans, best ideas, and big investments that have come crashing down around us that we introduced to ourselves. I am amazed at Edison’s response and it’s one we can learn from.

So the next time you face a setback, challenge, or some plan has gone up in smoke, remember this- there is value in it. Because it’s then you can have the perspective you need to go forward with confidence that this failure is not fatal.

It can give you a fresh attitude

Standing in the rubble of his work, Edison said, “All our mistakes are burned up”. I’m not sure about you, but there are times I’d be glad to see all my mistakes go up in flames- talk about a fire! This was a defining moment for Edison. Every fire is.

The truth is- we are creatures of comfort. We don’t like adversity. As leaders, we have to put out fires, but how many of us truly enjoy it? But like Edison, we at times find ourselves in places not of our choosing or making. And in these defining moments, the choice we make with our attitude will keep us in the ashes or bring us out.

I don’t know how Edison did it, but he kept a good attitude. I wish I could tell you how easy it is. This I know; the struggle is real. Joel Osteen said, “ I believe if you keep your faith, you keep your trust, you keep the right attitude, if you’re grateful, you’ll see God open up new doors.” I agree.

It can give you a promising future

In his final thought standing among the ruins, Edison said, “Now we can start anew.” What a powerful statement. What a hopeful outlook.

With the right perspective and the right attitude, I believe that there is no adversity that can keep you from a promising future. The road will not be easy. There will be hurdles to climb, ashes to brush off, and hot spots to deal with. But I am firmly convinced that the challenges you face in leadership are preparing you for your future, not your defeat.

In the midst of your fire, there is still a future.


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. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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