In Part One of this article I explained why it was important to develop a philosophy around the ways we approach, handle, and learn from failure. In this second part, I will offer six questions to aid in the process of developing our own philosophy of failure.
I wish we talked about failure more than we do in student leadership development circles. Perhaps it’s because of the tragic tales that emerge from students having to step down from leadership positions because of some type of moral failure or fatal flaw.
That’s not the kind of failure I’m addressing here. I’m not talking about those deep, dark secrets or sins that disqualify someone from leadership.
I’m thinking about the time when Bobby forgot to bring the grill to the cookout. Or the time Susie didn’t communicate with parents that the retreat included skydiving. It’s the mistakes and failures that come from a lack of experience. Some of it can be avoided. Some of it we have to learn from. That’s why I recommend we create a philosophy of failure in our student leadership development process.
Here are six questions that we need to ask ourselves before we encounter that inevitable mistakes and failures that will occur throughout the student leadership year.
1. Are you willing to let your student leaders fail/make mistakes?
I don’t wish for failure, but I don’t hide from it either. The simple fact is they’re “student” leaders. This means they’re learning. They’re going to try some things that will probably be less than perfect (great, average, poor, disaster). They learn from both success and failure. But the lessons learned from failure/mistakes are remembered longer.
The most effective leadership development processes give people the opportunity to learn to lead by leading.
Even if you spend an enormous amount of time preparing students for leadership, you’ll never know what kind of leader they will be until they start leading. And like most things, they won’t get it perfect on their first try (or their second…or third…).
So the question is how will you create a leadership culture that gives students the opportunity to lead, yet also provides the space for them to fail and make mistakes? We’re not just talking about setting up chairs in the wrong configuration. It’s more than forgetting to order enough food for an event. We can fix that quickly and no one needs to be the wiser.
This is leadership. When a leader makes a mistake everyone who is following the leader feels it.
In fact, one of the biggest arguments against instilling the value of leadership within student leadership culture will be the concern over the consequences that may occur because of a student leader’s failure or mistakes.
Leadership starts with taking responsibility, first for oneself, then, for the good of others. In other words, leadership starts with you but it’s not about you. It’s about working for the good of others.
Imagine the following scenario: You walk into your house and your mom or dad is standing over a broken lamp on the floor. They look at the lamp and then they look at you. Their eyes dart back and forth between the lamp and you. Their gaze is somewhat accusing. Their look is asking the unspoken question.
But you’ve been gone all day. You don’t know anything about the details of the broken lamp. So you speak up in the awkward silence with the response that every child has spoken since the dawn of time.
I didn’t do it.
You don’t want to be blamed for something you didn’t do. You don’t want to get involved in a mess that’s not your fault. You shy away from anything that will put you in the middle of the situation. But that’s not what leaders do. In fact, they do the opposite. They take responsibility.
The following is an excerpt from the book, The Age of the Customer, by Jim Blasingame.
Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him and to let him know that you trust him.
— Booker T. Washington
Thousands of years ago, when Og instinctively held up his open palm for the first time to reveal to Gog that he wasn’t holding a weapon, Og was saying, “Trust me, I mean you no harm.” When Gog believed the message of that gesture and accepted it by holding up his own open palm, the first contract was forged. When humans began choosing trust over fear, they started trading with each other instead of taking what they wanted by force.
So there you have it. The founding element of the marketplace, which has underpinned and underwritten human society, is trust.
One of the best parts of launching a book is making new friends.
Someone once told me that “a book is a business card that people don’t throw away.” I’d have to agree.
Writing a book creates all kinds of opportunities for conversations. I’ve already begun communicating with people about the book on three different continents other than my own. One person wrote back with some helpful feedback on how to make the book even better. What a gift!
Speaking of gifts, here are a few of the initial reviews from those who received an early release of the book. I’m taking these straight off of the Amazon page.
“Leadership Is Not About You is one of the books that let me believe that leadership is not about position, it is all about extending ourselves from a state of just doing our job obligations to a state of grasping opportunities to do what we like to change and accomplish.”
Today is the first day of the ten day launch of my newest book, Leadership Is Not About You.
Can I tell you something? It’s exciting to launch a book. It’s such a great feeling to see all of your words spread out on a bunch of pages with a nicely printed cover. It felt like Christmas when the first box of copies showed up off the UPS truck. I opened the package and there it was…my book…times 150!
I quickly began to hand them out to all of my student leaders and make them available to other interested people. It’s fun to hand out a book that has your own name on it and your own words in it.
But I didn’t write the book for me.
It is rewarding to complete a project; to get the thoughts out of my head and put them in organized form. But the real reward is the good it will produce in the lives of others.
It’s not easy to write a book. It takes discipline, energy, and perseverance. It costs something.
I didn’t write this book for me. I wrote it for my student leaders. As I typed out the words, I imagined myself sitting across the table from the students I work with on a daily basis. That was my motivation when I didn’t feel like writing. That’s who I thought of when I got stuck. That’s why I sat down at the keyboard in the first place. I wrote it for them.
You elected or selected students in your school, church, or organization to be leaders. You even call them student leaders.
But now they’re doing everything by themselves. They are working hard, but they’re not leading…anyone…else.
I’ve just released my latest book, Leadership Is Not About You. It’s the follow-up book to Leadership Starts With You.
I put this book in the hands of every one of my student leaders. It’s a quick and easy read, yet the principles it contains will shape their leadership beyond their student leadership year.
I wrote this book for my student leaders for three reasons:
1. To teach my student leaders the quickest path to establish their leadership credibility during their student leadership year.
2. To focus my student leaders on investing in the lives of others through their leadership platform.
3. To equip my student leaders to become the type of people others want to follow.
The Leadership Is Not About You Launch: 1/13/14
To celebrate the release of this book, I will be launching the book next week with some bonus material.
One of the reasons people are interested in leadership development is because it so closely aligned with personal development. Working on one’s leadership capacity requires some work in the area of personal growth and an understanding of one’s temperament, personality, and skill set.
With that in mind, I am always excited to hear from students who are eager to learn more about leadership. I believe each person can learn to be a better leader. While some people have the personal makeup that initially draws others to them, each person can increase their level of influence and find leadership opportunities in their environment.
But learning leadership is a contact sport. One can have all of the books, lessons, websites and insights – but that person doesn’t really understand what it means to lead…until he or she actually puts those things into practice.