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The Beauty of Failure…and Owning It!

For those of us with perfectionistic personalities, the fear of making a mistake can be debilitating as a leader.

But if we’re not willing to be wrong, chances are terribly high that we’ll never come up with anything creative. Creativity demands the process of elimination. Or as I like to call it, the process of humiliation. Albert Einstein quipped, “Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.”

Much has been made of the oft-repeated story of Thomas Edison’s light bulb experiments: over 1600 different filament materials were tried and failed until finally finding success with carbonized bamboo—all captured in forty-thousand-plus pages of meticulous notes.

Those are a lot of mistakes.

But even more telling is Edison’s response after experimenting with audio recording. Listening back to the first recording of a human voice—his own, reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—caused him to worry. As he would put it, “I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.”

Fifteen years ago at our church, we were wrestling with how to reach different personality types, particularly those who were not attracted to the megachurch model. For those who might be interested in exploring faith in an alternative setting, we launched several microchurches linked to us via video and led by volunteers. We were excited about the possibility of planting churches for the price of a simple, cheap streaming device (though the behind-the-scenes costs turned out to be a significant and expensive overhaul of bringing our outdated video equipment into the world of high definition)! They would function like a house church and be a missional outpost in their own neighborhoods but connected to the resources of a larger church. At the end of a few years, only one survived. For various reasons, we were unsuccessful at making it work and resoundingly failed. There may well be a time when video-resourced large church-connected house churches will work, but for us at that point in our history, it didn’t.

True innovation absolutely demands failures and false starts because it’s simply part of the learning process. Often it’s in the failures that our true direction and purpose is discovered. Entrepreneurs know that the company they founded may look and produce things very differently than what they started; for them, it’s the initiating and forward-movement aspects that stimulate them.

Wise spiritual leaders have learned that followership is not given because of how perfectly a leader leads, but rather how quickly they own their mistakes and failures. A leader’s credibility with their followers is exponentially devalued when he or she shifts blame to others when they are ultimately responsible.

Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


Check out the new Elemental Leaders podcast "Integrity and Walking the Talk" wherever you get your podcasts...or at our website!


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