One more thread I heard from a couple of speakers: some challenging comments on failure. I’m not sure any leader enjoys failure. But it’s not only a necessary step on the way to success, it’s the best way to learn. So, what is the relationship between success and failure? Here are two theories.

Pastor Dave Gibbons: “Failure is success to God.”

Authors Chip and Dan Heath: “Failure is an early sign of success.”

Chip and Dan again: “In times of change, failure is a necessity.”

When I read back over my notes on Dave Gibbons’ talk, a lot of the things he said that resonated at the time simply don’t make apparent sense to me today. Either I didn’t take detailed-enough notes, or his session gave all the highlights, and you have to pick up his book for them to make sense. But let me try to unpack them here.

Dave followed his quote above by saying that failure is the way the world resonates with us. It’s seems like Christians market themselves to the world as moralists who always do the right thing. I think that’s the reason the world laughs hardest when they see self-righteous-ism fall into the traps of sin. It’s when we admit our struggles, sins and failures that the world finds common ground with us. Painful though it might be to detail our failures, we can now talk on the same level with those who tend to be more open about their struggles. When that happens, God can move in and do amazing things.

We already know that God’s power is strongest when we are weak. I’m looking forward to reading the book, Leading with a Limp, because it’s built around the idea that you can lead out of brokenness and weakness. Think of the incredible power Wess Stafford has had available to him as CEO of Compassion International because of the horrific abuse he suffered before age 10. The thing is that we’re all woefully inadequate and desperately insecure, and we need God to redeem our failures and turn them into success.

I think what the Heaths are getting at is that we are too quick to give up. When we get hit with failure after failure, we too quickly assume that failure is on the horizon as well. Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison are two frequently-cited examples of great men who could have given up but tried one more time. I think the Heaths would say that failure is part of the process that leads to success, and often, it can be the mark that you’re getting close. My problem with that statement is that it sounds like something you say when you’re failing to keep up your courage. How do you know which failure is going to be your last failure before you break through?

Dave, Chip and Dan didn’t explain their comments. Maybe I just need to buy their books.

The winner in this set of quotes is the last one. In times of discontinuous change, leaders should take courage. This is the time to innovate. This is the time to try new things and see what works. After all, in times of change, there are no templates. So, try and fail, but keep trying, because your breakthrough might become the new template on the other side.

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