Our perspective is often skewed by the circumstances of life until something happens that helps us see beyond our current perspective into something beyond ourselves. Have you ever questioned your presumptions about failure? How we perceive failure is critical to being an effective leader. John Maxwell points out that we often look at failure through multiple lenses. We often think failure is 100% avoidable, but it’s not. We believe failure is an event instead of a moment in time. We think failure is objective, when in reality we often define failure by how much push back we get from others. Failure is not our enemy. In fact, it is often a place of fertile ground. We tend to think that failure is irreversible, but it isn’t. Leaders know that failure needs to be viewed in the context of the big picture. We look at failure as a stigma when in reality everyone fails at something. Some of us fail more often than others. Lastly, we often see failure as final.But, “Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success.”
Some of the greatest lessons we learn in life are from our failures or the failures of those around us. This was no different for John Wooden. In 1925, John and his family lived in Centerton, Indiana on a small farm. He learned early the value of a good work ethic. Though his dad worked for a dollar a day, they were happy and had what they needed. On one occasion, John’s father, Hugh Wooden, borrowed money to purchase thirty hogs. Hugh had to inoculate the hogs for cholera, but soon found out that the serum was bad, and every hog died. Due to the debt and an unexpected drought, they lost the farm which was their primary source of support.
Hugh Wooden also passed a lesson onto his four boys called the “Two Sets of Three”: Never lie, never cheat, never steal. Don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t make excuses.” Hugh walked what he talked, “Through it all Dad never winced. He laid no blame on the merchant who had sold him the bad serum, didn’t curse the weather, and had no hatred toward the banker.” Many years later John would admit “That’s where I came to see that what you do is more important than what you say you’ll do.” John lived by the belief that actions speak louder than words. Leaders realize that though actions speak louder than words, words are often necessary to explain the meaning behind that action.
Leaders need to realize that words are just words until their actions breathe life into them. Failure is a part of life. How we respond to our failures can in many ways show those around us that failure is a necessary steppingstone to success. In my experience, it is better to embrace one’s failure instead of pretending it never happened. Life is messy and there is learning in everything along the way, if we are willing to embrace the opportunity. I am reminded of the old saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Good intentions have little meaning without the actions to back them up, but even good intentions acted upon may have unintended consequences. Nevertheless, leading by example is still critical to being a good leader. John Wooden would say it this way, “A leader must be what he wants the team to become. Your example counts most.”