Let Failure Fuel Your Growth as a Business Leader

February 20, 2018

Failure and leadership

When I coach the management team coming up in our organization and talk about being a leader, I see the glitter in their eyes as they light up. I have often wondered, what is it that they see at that moment? Is it the stage and success? The spotlight and compliments that come when milestones are achieved?

The vision of grandeur is an illusion of perfection; in reality, leadership entails making decisions that carry significant risk. Taking risks does not always guarantee a positive outcome, which is why leaders, like everyone else, must deal with failure.

Failure is an inevitable part of a leader’s journey, but it does not always have to be perceived as negative. Some of the most successful personalities in business, such as Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and Oprah Winfrey, are known to have faced immense failure in their lives. Failure is an integral part of growth, and you can use it to your fuel your growth and further your career.

How can leaders benefit from failure?

Failure plays an important role in shaping a person into an effective and efficient leader, and it should be seen as a process that can result in immense growth and development. Here are four areas in which you can benefit from failure:

Experience. The kind of experience you gain from failing is extremely valuable. Trying to do something new or taking risks requires immense courage, and when you equip yourself with firsthand experience of doing so, it results in a learning experience that shapes your personality and skills. The school of hard knocks comes with lessons that can’t be learned in any other way.

Perseverance. Pulling yourself up from failure requires a significant amount of courage. This becomes more of a challenge as you are promoted above your peers. That was my path, and I faced many challenges during my transition from associate on a team to the team’s manager. However, if I had quit and remained intimidated, I would not have grown to become who I am today. To grow from failure, we need to get back up every time we fall. This level of perseverance cannot be gained in any other way. It requires you to face failure in a resilient manner.

Humility. Another great advantage of facing failure and learning from it is the amount of humility it brings. Who hasn’t failed in front of others and hung their head in shame or humiliation? The humility that we see in Bill Gates today, one of the richest men in the world, can be attributed to the challenges that he faced during his path to success with Microsoft. As a leader, when you fail and accept the failure instead of blaming it on others, you develop humility and understand the absence of perfection everywhere. This will shape you into a more understanding and accepting leader in the future.

Confidence and trust. As I experienced failure in my career, I learned how to take calculated risks and, at the same time, how to become fearless when it comes to facing the prospect of failing. Many times leaders doubt themselves and their abilities because of their fear of failure; in reality, an effective leader takes failure as an inevitable part of growth and benefits from it by accepting and learning from it. Leaders should be able to better trust their judgment and use the knowledge they gain to make more effective decisions.

Learning on the leadership path

Let’s be clear. Failure is not the goal. It’s not something that we should look forward to. But it is something that will happen if you try a lot of ideas. A fear of failing shouldn’t be what stops you from trying. It should cause you to think, collaborate, plan, and make the best decision possible. In our current environment, repeated failure is not option. Learning from your failures and not repeating them will lead you to success.

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About The Author

Wesley Middleton is the author of Violent Leadership: Be a Force for Change. Disrupt. Innovate. Energize. (ForbesBooks, 2017). He is co-founder and managing partner of Middleton Raines + Zapata LLP (MRZ), a tax and accounting services firm, and is also an executive team member for MRZ Financial and SKY Valuation. Middleton is a certified public accountant and member of the AICPA, Texas Society of CPAs, and the Association of Accounting Marketing.


  1. avatar

    […] bottom line is that how we govern ourselves is an important component of leadership today. The approaches offered here are meant to stimulate your thinking and provide actionable ideas to […]

  2. avatar

    Wesley Middleton, thank you for this post. It’s very inspiring.

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