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8 Reasons Failure Forges Strong Leaders

Whether you’ve been rejected for a promotion, lost a client, or screwed up an important project, failure feels awful, demoralizing, and draining. However, there are secret upsides of failure: reflection, iteration and innovation, grit, and community.

These can be game-changing gifts—if we can access them. But when we are swirling in shame about a past failure or busy trying to avoid future failure, we miss these secret gifts.

It takes conscious effort to see the bright side of failure, so here are eight benefits of failure that will make you a more effective, fearless leader.

Failure Is Feedback

Failure, while often painful, is feedback nonetheless. When we separate failure from negative emotion and shame, the information it offers is compelling. It presents us with unique gifts that, while available elsewhere, aren’t quite as rich and as clear as when you’re face down on the field or speechless in the spotlight.

Failure Invites Reflection

When we train hard for a race, practice daily, watch what we eat, and monitor our times and lose, we look carefully at our preparation. Maybe we could’ve switched our diet, shifted our practice course, added or ditched a layer of clothing. We carefully examine what worked and what didn’t and improve our attempt the next time.

When we train hard and win, we assume that we won because we ate well or, worse, because we are good runners. Success doesn’t inspire reflection or force growth. Failure, however, compels us to reflect and improve.

Failure Allows Us to Examine Our Expectations and Assumptions

When faced with failure, we ask ourselves, “Why did I think I could win? What did I assume about my competition? Were those assessments grounded?”

The reflection and examination of failure often prompt practice, innovation, and evolution. We’re able to see ourselves in a more realistic light with fewer assumptions and improve from this new starting point.

Failure Is a Catalyst

For many people, failure is the secret sauce that catalyzes transformational change. Someone might have become complacent with their performance or skill level, and only after experiencing failure, felt motivated to change. In this way, failure is a driving force for self-improvement and might be the only thing that inspires someone to explore new frontiers fearlessly.

Failure Grows Our Perseverance and Grit

Failure can be the catalyst that inspires change, but we don’t always fail, pivot, and succeed. Sometimes, we fail, fail again, and keep failing. That kind of failure, while painful and demoralizing, can grow perseverance and grit.

Grit and perseverance are the seeds of gravitas, and gravitas is the key characteristic of strong leaders. It empowers you to withstand future failures better, recover quicker, and swiftly move on to the next opportunity.

Failure Can Create Instant, Powerful Community

Tell a group of people your most embarrassing personal story. What you’ll find isn’t judgment and ridicule, but a chorus of “Me too” or “You think that’s bad…”

We can all relate to moments when things go awry, when we end up getting smacked in the face by the ball rather than dunking it. Revealing that vulnerable part of ourselves, those failures, can bring us closer together.

Failure Can Lead to Innovation

Many executives have led companies that failed, only to go on to innovate and launch game-changing businesses and products.

Imagine, what would be possible if you shared your failures and mistakes broadly? What if you could mine a reserve of ideas and products that were actually shelved to be considered later?

Think of how you and your teams could innovate and create. Think of how nimbly you could address consumer and market need.

Failure Makes You Fearless

When you fail, that’s the worst possible outcome happening to you. But the upside is that after you’ve failed once, the possibility becomes less frightening. You survived failure once. Why not again?

When you fail repeatedly, you find yourself in familiar territory. Your courage and confidence get forged in the fire of your disastrous experience, but you come out stronger and fearless.

Consider the failures in your history with fresh eyes. What gifts did you receive from the experience? You’ll likely notice that rather than being a tragedy, failure proved to be a path for powerful self-improvement.


This article was adapted from the book Naked at Work written by Danessa Knaupp

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Danessa Knaupp
Danessa Knaupp is an executive coach, CEO, and keynote speaker shifting the global conversation on leadership. By empowering people to bring life and energy to the constant change swirling in today’s corporate environments, Danessa supports executives, performers, and teams as they define their path forward and determine the future. Danessa Knaupp is best known as the author of the Naked at Work: A Leader's Guide to Fearless Authenticity. Danessa Knaupp is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.