5 Ways to Overcome Leadership Failure

One of the things I love about my work is all the time I get to spend speaking to high performance organizations.

During a recent session I challenged a group to make one of the moves all high performance organizations make … to Bet on Leadership. 

Bet on LeadershipAt one point in the day I gave the participants an opportunity to ask questions which led to the following … “What happens when you bet on leadership and the leadership fails on you?”

Great question!

Let’s face it. Leaders are human, and the last time I checked humans are notorious for failure. However, when someone fails to lead well it doesn’t mean we should altogether abandon the idea of leadership. I believe he opposite should be true. We should bet on leadership even more and do everything we can to strengthen the leadership culture.

If you are attempting to build a leadership culture consider the following 5 ideas to help overcome and lessen the leadership failures around you. 

  • Expect Excellence – Often times leaders fail because no one on the team holds them to a high standard. If you have leaders around you who are not living up to the expected standards, my question is, “Have you made the expectations clear?” If not, perhaps it is on you as one of the leaders to call out the excellence you desire. When you have summoned the best and those you have trusted to fill leadership roles still don’t seem to care, it is likely they need to be invited off the leadership team. If you find yourself in a reporting role to such a leader, you owe it to yourself to find a new leader to follow. Yes, I’m saying that if you don’t trust your leader you should plan your exit strategy – sooner than later.
  • Endure Mistakes – There is a difference in a mistake and a failure. Great leaders are able to discern that difference and allow an occasional bad day. Sometimes sticking with someone when they are struggling can be a catalyst for their improvement. 
  • Extend Grace – When things move from the mistake level to failure, great leaders find a way to extend grace. They aren’t quick to judge or blame. They keep things in the proper perspective, refusing to make it personal. Even when it becomes necessary to sever the working relationship, the best leaders still find ways to extend grace without burning bridges. They recognize someday they will need grace themselves. 
  • Encourage Growth – Assuming the work relationship survives failure, the one who fails still needs to be challenged to improve. If you want to proactively foster a culture of leadership development, then encourage growth in everyone, whether they have failed or not – but especially if they have. A fresh challenge can serve as a wake up call for a lazy or lagging leader. Rather than complaining to others about someone’s skill gaps, why not go to the person you are struggling with and challenge them to get better.
  • Evaluate Yourself – It may not be what we want to hear, but when failure is present, before we start throwing stones perhaps we would be wise to first look in the mirror. Am I living up to the standards? Do I have blind spots? Am I the one enabling dysfunctional behavior? … All questions a leader should wrestle with before judging others. There is a verse from the Bible that reminds us of this principle. Matthew 7:3 reads, “Why do you look at the speck in someone else’s eye when you have a log in your own?” Many times we look for failure in others because discovering it helps us cope with our own inadequacies. 

I’m confident if you will filter failure through the above ideas you will not only be able to survive, you will also be positioned to Bet on Leadership in a renewed way.


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To learn the 4 Moves of High Performance Organizations check out the Chess not Checkers video series.


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