Americans love redemption stories. We love tales of rags to riches, of people overcoming terrible tragedies and crushing failures to reach the heights of success. We love the second chance, I'll-prove-you-wrong storyline.
But the fact is, there are some failures that are final. It doesn't matter how much we believe in ourselves or how doggedly we continue to pursue the dream, there are some failures that permanently close the door.
If you're a leader, failure isn't something you can avoid. It comes with the territory. You'll make bad decisions because you failed to size up the situation accurately. You'll make right decisions, only to watch circumstances outside of your control turn them into wrong decisions. You'll hire people you should have passed on, trust folks who prove untrustworthy, and launch programs that are dead on arrival.
All of these are normal leadership failures. They can be overcome. But there are other kinds of leadership failures that are nearly impossible to overcome. You'll want to avoid these three leadership felonies at all costs.
1. The Curse of the Spotlight
There are lots of leaders with a long list of failures before they finally succeeded. But if you look closely, you'll realize their early failures were anything but high profile. They occurred in relative obscurity. The only people impacted were friends, family, and a few investors.
A high-profile pastor may credit his early failures as the key to his current success. We hear about his failures from the main stage of the big conference he's speaking at, or the bestselling book he's written. At that point they're far away in the distant past, now known by many, but actually experienced by few.
But let those exact same failures happen under the glare of the public spotlight and the response of the crowds will be very different. It's one thing to learn tough financial lessons when your small startup runs out of cash. It's another thing when your large, established church goes broke because you convinced everyone that, "If we build it, they will come," and no one came.
These kinds of high profile failures won't prepare you for the future. They'll destroy your future. They squander trust and credibility, the two things every leader must have to lead, innovate, and carry out major changes. Failure may be a great teacher. But make no mistake, its lessons are best learned in a small out-of-the-way classroom.
Serial innovators don't mind failing. In fact, they fail often. But they make sure their failures aren't potentially fatal to the trust they've built up over the years. They never confuse high risk gambling with innovative leadership. They understand the high cost of high profile failure.
2. The Curse of Hype
If we hype something that succeeds, all is well. But if we hype something that fails, the loss in trust can be significant. And if we hype everything, it won't be long until our words are white noise, the leadership equivalent of a carnival barker.
If your primary goal is to get something off to a great start, hype might work. But if your goal is long-term success (or the chance to try again should this idea not work out), hype kills. It undermines trust and credibility.
I grew up in a church where every guest speaker, new program, and special event was marketed as a life changer you couldn't afford to miss. We all knew it wasn't true. But that didn't stop the people making announcements, printing bulletins, and sending out the newsletter. They thought it would increase attendance. But all it did was fuel cynicism. We all knew from experience that the best thing about these "world class" speakers and missionaries was that they could cure insomnia.