The Power of Failure in Leadership

remington-typewriter-1423223-1279x1807This will sound almost well…un-North American. But life isn’t about winning. I know that seems funny, but it’s also something we all know deep down. We all know people who seem so content, and uninterested in joining in the rat race around us and competing for life. They just seem to have…life.

And that’s what I’m interested in. Interested in finding life apart from winning.

Because here is the thing, there is always a loser when someone else is a winner. And this makes it sound like I just want to give out participation ribbons to everyone and pretend that everything is equal and everyone should get a trophy. And that’s not it at all.

I believe that there is deep value in working hard, in striving and reaching for the best. I believe pushing yourself matters deeply. But what I also know is that this world is unfair, and there are people who are working hard, striving, and losing because the deck is stacked against them. So what I am saying is that life cannot be tied directly to winning; it needs to be tied to something greater. It needs to be tied of course to Jesus, to pursuing growth.

And here is the crazy thing, for you to grow you need to fail.

I know that sounds pessimistic but it’s true. There is nothing you grow at without some learning and failing along the way. There is nothing you came out of the womb totally competent and excellent at. This is the trouble with tying life to winning. It makes life static and boring because there is no growth.

Joan Chittister puts it this way,

“We need failure to learn that we don’t need to win to justify the reason for our existence. Wining is part of life, yes, but human beings can live healthy, happy lives without it. We are not born to win; we are born to grow, to develop, to become the best of ourselves – and to enjoy life…No life is not about winning. It is about trying, about participating, about striving, about becoming the best we can be, not by the best by someone else’s measure.”

And I just believe that is true. We are not born to win, but to grow. And that’s part about what following Jesus is all about. It’s about being “re-born” to learn to continue to grow in a way that requires failing, faltering steps, and striving for his Kingdom and his best.

So I write this all to say, that if you’ve been failing lately – that might just be okay. Don’t give up because life isn’t about the winning, but the trying.

Why Leadership Entails Failing

I think if we want to learn to be leaders, and leadership can be learnt, we have to learn to live with messiness. And I don’t mean just messiness around us, but messiness within us.

Here’s what I mean by that: learning necessitates failing, mistakes, and messiness. 

You can’t become competent at something without trying, and without failing. That’s part of developing competence and ability. You try something, you make mistakes, you grow, you learn and you try again.

And that same principle is true with leadership. We won’t be able to grow as a leader if we are worried about failing, or making a mess. Instead, we should be growing in leadership as the art of learning from our mistakes and our messes.

All leaders fail and flounder. Which means to become a leader we have to learn to be okay with failing.

That almost sounds backwards in the leadership world. In the leadership world the talk is about success, moving forward, and casting vision. And those are all true and good things. The difficulty is that no one can do that perfectly on their first try. It’s something we grow in, and learn through our mistakes.

So all I’m saying is this: if you want to be a leader, you’re going to have to learn to be okay with making mistakes, and decide you are going to learn from your mistakes.

And that also means that if you are going to be raising other leaders around you, you’ll have to be okay with their mistakes too. In all honesty, I think leadership comes down to learning from mistakes, and allowing people to make mistakes.

So my challenge to each of you is this: go out and try to be a leader. Don’t let the worry about making mistakes stop you from trying, because that’s actually a deep part of leadership.

Failures You Learn from Aren’t Failures

1-Duccio_Calling1On Sunday we are going to be looking at one of the best known stories and misunderstood. Isn’t that funny? How the ones that are most familiar are actually the ones we often need to listen tomost. So on Sunday we are going to look at Peter’s failure as he sinks in the waves, water, and wind. We are going to look as his faith breaks, and he starts to slip. The problem is that we think of this moment as a failure. We think of this moment as a mistake. We miss the point that 11 other disciples are sitting in the boat, and that actually in this one moment Peter is making up for a previous mistake in the day.

So on Sunday we are going to look at how mistakes or seeming failures can be so much more than that. My guess is ~  that you already know what I’m talking about. That if you look back on your life some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned have come from mistakes or failures.

Personally, while it might seem odd, I have a list called “My List of Failures”. It’s fairly self-explanatory, and also long and growing. But like Peter if I fail, I want to learn from it and grow through it. Then it doesn’t become a regret, but part of the process of being an apprentice of Jesus…and that’s what following Jesus is all about…

My List of Failures…

I hate to fail. I hate the feeling, I hate when it happens. But even more than that, I hate when I don’t learn from my failures.

A mentor of mine taught me to keep a success list. This is where you write down significant accomplishments. Not big, but significant. This helps you when you hit a low week. Those weeks where you wonder what you’re doing in life, and if your life has had any meaning. You can look back over your list and realize that God is working through you. It’s almost a reminder of God’s activity in your life. And this is a good thing.

But I’ve started up something less positive – My list of Failures. This may seem odd, and perhaps it is. But I hate making mistakes and hate even more repeating them. So I write down key mistakes, and what I’ve learned from them so I never do it again. And yes I could title my list more positively like “My List of Learnings”. But for me I know I fail, and I will fail. The title may not be happy but it keeps me humble and healthy.

So want to know some things off my list? Here are a few mistakes I’ve learned from. Don’t email, when a phone call is better and more easily understood. Don’t think someone else will do it. Don’t be embarrassed to ask to pray for someone.

Want to know my newest one?

On Sunday I didn’t feel like I did a good job preaching. Inside I felt a bit off, unsure, and flustered. I let that affect me and my responses. I failed a bit there. So here’s my newest one: Don’t let your job or duties ever stop you from simply pausing, breathing, and praying for God to be present. That probably would have made the difference.

But I’m not going to let to make the same mistake twice.

But what about you. What will you not let happen twice?

What mistakes have you learned from?…

Failing Confidence…Finding God…

Yesterday when is spoke I didn’t feel confident. I didn’t feel I did well, that I let myself down. To be honest I don’t know why.  I prepared, prayed, and did my best. I know that others when they preach have sometimes a similar reaction afterwards. Knowing all of that should be enough. But it doesn’t feel like enough…

That’s the hard thing with confidence. Sometimes things don’t feel right. You don’t feel confident, you feel like someone else could have done better, or you feel just off.

But isn’t that the problem? Confidence shouldn’t be based on my feelings, my abilities, my perceptions, or me at all. It should be based on God. But what does that really mean?

Well maybe it’s this simple. That when God decides to use us, we simply trust in his decision. We may not feel like we did the best. We may feel like we could have done better. But I think our feelings lead us astray. Our feelings often focus us on ourselves, doubts, and self-perceptions. They focus us…on us…rather than on God who wants to use us.

So maybe being confident is actually very simple. Simply trusting in the God who wants to use you. The God who wants to use our imperfect, unsure, and limited but desiring selves.

God chooses to use you…as you are…knowing who you are.

So maybe then today just rest in that. That God, knowing your limitations, is still wanting and choosing you. He trusts you.  And if he trusts us, shouldn’t we trust ourselves? Shouldn’t we trust in his choice, and leave the rest up to him? That’s what I’m going to do on Sunday. Just trust in him, and leave it up to him.

Maybe take some time today and simply decide to trust in God, and see where that takes you.

My guess is that it will take you quite far…