Leadership – Learning to Fail….Forward

Hola Todos!

Mr. Mike has a topic that is near and dear to my heart…FAILURE.  In one of my favorite leadership books Geeks & Greasers, by Warren Bennis with Robert Thomas, the authors talk about leaders and their crucible.  A crucible is an intense learning experience and for almost all of the leaders profiled in this book, their crucible was a horrible failure.  Just as Conan O’Brien discussed his crucible below, leaders learn from their (horrible) experiences.  They all failed, but they failed and then moved forward with their lives to do something better, of which, they would have never reached this better place without their failure.

There are hundreds of examples to illustrate but because this is my blog, I’ll use Steve Jobs; fired/ousted from the company he founded in 1985 because his weaknesses got the best of him. Created another company (NeXT) that was basically a failure too.  This 10 to 12 year crucible served Apple well as well as the consumers who purchased Apple’s products.  The Steve Jobs we know today would not have same story we know well without his colossal failures.

Mike, the floor is yours…




To:  The Great Leaders Who Have a Passion for Continuous Learning


In his June 2011 Commencement Address at Dartmouth University (click here), Conan O’Brien, TV host and writer, with an introduction filled with fun and humor, shared a lesson that he had learned the year before when he experienced “a very profound and public disappointment.”

He had failed.  He said: “I did not get what I wanted, and I left a system that had nurtured and helped define me for the better part of 17 years. I went from being in the center of the grid to not only off the grid….” He spent the next year wandering, doing things that were “silly, unconventional, spontaneous and seemingly irrational.”  His commitment to his purpose in life was being redefined and he felt liberated.  From this he realized:  “There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”

He spoke of Johnny Carson who wanted to be a Jack Benny, famous 1940’s and 1950’s comedian, and failed; of David Letterman who wanted to be a Johnny Carson, and failed; and of comedians of his own generation who wanted to be David Letterman, and who failed.  Of this he said: “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention….The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.”

What magnificent rewards that disappointment offers: the clarity to see one’s purpose more clearly, the conviction to have a greater commitment to accomplish it and the gaining a greater realization and understand of our own beautify uniqueness.  Eliza Tabor, author, writes: “Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.”  May your disappointments be few, but when they come, may you treasure the beautiful gifts they give and become greater with their departure.

Have a beautiful day and a fantastic week!!!




Contact Information:

Michael M. Reuter

Director, Center for Leadership Development

Stillman School of Business

Seton Hall University

Tel: (Office) 973.275.2528

Email: Michael.Reuter@shu.edu




2 thoughts on “Leadership – Learning to Fail….Forward

  1. I think the common theme here is that striving to just follow in another’s footsteps and trying to be a carbon copy isn’t the road to success one would think it is. To really stand out and make an impact, you have to have the courage to stand out on your own, carve a unique path and differentiate yourself from what’s come before (this is as true in business/entrepreneurship as it is in showbiz).

  2. Pingback: Leadership: Remembering Zig Zigler

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