Finding a Friend in Failure

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There once was a man who, once a week, posed the same question to his children across the dinner table: “How have you failed this week?” he would ask. When his kids struggled to come up with an answer, or realized they did not, in fact, fail at all this week, the father would challenge them: “You’re not taking enough risks,” he’d say, and encourage them to take the risk of failing the following week.

I don’t know if you’re at all like me, but I tend to take pride in my fail-free weeks. Failure isn’t something I tend to include in my list of hopes and dreams, and quite frankly, I don’t prefer to flaunt my failures or announce them to the world when they do happen.

It’s not recommended to live recklessly, inviting failure at our every twist and turn, however, the transformational leader recognizes that unless a risk is taken, through which failure is a possibility, growth is not an option. We will not grow if we choose to remain where we’ve always been. Growth requires movement, and with movement comes risk, and with risk, there may be failure. 

While failure can seem like an off-limits word to most of us, one of the most transformational attitudes leaders can have is in their perspective of failure. 

It is important to remember that no one on earth is exempt from failure. Failure is something that every human being has experienced. This is why it is important that leaders model a healthy perspective of failure. If we’re going to fail, we want to do it well. 

So how can we view failure as a friend, and not a foe?

  • Failure is not fatal. While it may seem like it, our failure is not the end of the world. We woke up this morning and have another day to try again. Experiencing failure gives us a chance to pause and re-evaluate before moving forward. We can ask ourselves: What worked? What didn’t? Do I need to re-evaluate my end-goal? What can I learn from this? How have I grown through this experience?
  • Fail forward. It’s tempting (and quite easy) to withdraw and simply throw in the towel when we’ve experienced failure. But moving backwards in our progress isn’t our only option. When we fail, we can choose to fail forward. We can ask ourselves: How can I use this experience to propel me toward future success? How does this failure better equip me to walk with others in their failure? How will I choose to use, and not waste, this experience? How can I use what I’ve learned to press on?
  • Value progress over perfection. When we’ve missed the mark, or things didn’t go quite as we hoped, it’s important to filter the failure through a growth mindset lens. Chances are, it wasn’t all bad, and simply the willingness to step out and take a risk is a sign of growth. We can ask ourselves: How have I grown in the past year? In what ways has this experience brought me further than if I would’ve never tried? What small steps of progress have I made?

People don’t want to follow a perfect leader. They want to follow a leader who has been in their shoes and understands who they are and where they’re at. As we give ourselves some grace in the process of growth, failure, and perseverance, we can let others see that we’re not perfect, that we, too, have failed. In so doing, we can encourage them to step out and take a risk to grow as well. By cultivating an environment in which others are free to fail safely within certain parameters, leaders can encourage a growth mindset and lessen the daunting shadow of failure. 

Failure is not fatal; if we choose to fail forward, we’ll become aware that progress is more valuable than perfection, and it’s the journey that is more rewarding than the destination itself.

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


Maryssa Boyd