Boss Lady

Why leaders need to get better at failing


Failure is an inevitable part of any leader’s journey. So the question becomes not if you will fail, but how. Here are seven insights I have gained about people who seem to fail better, and seven questions I have learned to ask when navigating through these waters myself.

1. They accept it

They accept that failure is a normal part of the process.

It doesn’t surprise them when they fail. They understand that not everything you do will work out the way you expect, and they are content with that. They aren’t afraid to take risks and try something that hasn’t been done. They accept that sometimes you win and other times you learn.

Question #1: Is the fear of failure stopping me from trying?

2. They recognise it

They recognise when something isn’t working.

This can be hard to see. When you are passionate about an idea, you want it to work and you don’t want to give up on it too soon. As a result, it’s easy to spend more time and resources keeping something on life support that we should have let go a long time ago. People who fail better know how to recognise when something needs to change before it is too late.

Question #2: What isn’t working right now that I need to stop?

3. They own it

They take responsibility for their part and take ownership of what needs to change.

People who fail better aren’t looking for someone to blame when something goes wrong, even when it would be easy to do so. Even if the failure was beyond their control, they take responsibility for their contribution. They know you cannot change what you are unwilling to own. Ownership of a failure does not mean you personally are a failure. It is about taking ownership of your actions, not taking ownership of an identity.

Question #3: What part did I play in this not working?

4. They learn from it

They find every opportunity to learn and grow.

People who fail better treat failure as a teacher. They know there is a lesson to be learned and work hard to find it. When they learn, they apply the knowledge and grow. When some­thing doesn’t work, they want to know why – not so they can point a finger or pass the blame, but so they can avoid making the same mistake again. To make a mistake is okay; to repeat the same mistake is not.

Question #4: What can I learn and how can I grow from this?

5. They share it

They share their learning and experience with others.

It seems strange that you would want to promote your fail­ure. But those who fail better don’t see it as promoting failure; they see it as helping others avoid the same mistakes. They know that if they can help others avoid the same mistakes, they are contributing to the broader success of the organisation. By sharing their failures, they know they are helping others move forward faster.

Question #5: How can this experience help others?

6. They change it

They make the necessary adjustments to position themselves for success.

When something isn’t working, it needs to change. People who fail better learn from their experiences and make the necessary adjustments to better position themselves for future success. Sometimes these adjustments are obvious, and other times they need some input from those outside the process. They aren’t intimidated by asking for help; they know that the best bet for success is tapping into the best of those around them.

Question #6: What can I do differently this time?

7. They move forward from it

They keep moving forward.

While others sit around wallowing in their failure, these leaders know how to keep moving forward. Failure is a part of the process, not the end of it. They understand that failure does not need to be final. They let go of the pain or frustration of the past event and, armed with the lessons and experience they have gained, step forward into the future opportunity.

Question #7: What is stopping me from moving forward?

These are some of the insights I have gained from observing leaders who seem to fail better. This isn’t about the pursuit of failure in order to achieve success. Rather, it’s about recognis­ing that the pursuit of growth will inevitably include moments of failure. It’s how you respond to these challenges that makes the difference.

Failing is okay. Be the type of leader who fails better.

About Shane Michael Hatton

Edited extract from Lead The Room by Shane Michael Hatton (Major Street Publishing $29.95) now available at all good book stores and online at

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