Don't Throw the Baby

Leadership failure is all around us. Both traditional and social media send stories of leadership failure around the world within minutes. The simple fact is this: Leaders make mistakes. They let us down. Sometimes surprisingly so. We need to be careful where we place our faith and trust when it comes to our leadership education. If we put too much stock in the leaders themselves rather than the leadership principles they teach us, we set ourselves up to lose many of the positive leadership lessons we have learned in the past.

Principle > Personality

When it comes to learning about leadership, the leadership principle is of far greater importance than the personality of the leader. Being able to separate these from one another is critical if we are to learn all that we can from the leadership stories of others.

Parents regularly tell their kids to eat healthy food and get plenty of rest, but do we conclude these principles are no longer accurate if the parents themselves don't live up to those principles? No, the principles of nutrition and rest are factual whether the parents follow them or not. Yet when leaders fail to live out certain leadership principles, especially those of the moral variety, there is a groundswell to vilify and wholly toss aside everything associated with them. If we fall in line with this practice, we will lose the valuable leadership lessons we've learned from them in the past.

A Reminder to Remember


Let's resist the urge to play the all or nothing game. Let's say "No" to labeling leaders as 100% villains when they fail. Leaders' failures, even when dramatic, need not negate the effective leadership principles they've previously exemplified.

When leaders fail, it's natural to dissect what happened and learn from their demise. But those failures can also serve as a reminder to remember the effective leadership lessons they've shown us. An ambitious learner might even get out a paper and pen or open up an Evernote to do so.

If we use moments of leadership failure to remember the positive leadership principles our fallen leaders have taught us, we will be developing the ability to see the difference between the leaders we follow and the principles we learn from them. When honed, this skill not only helps us maximize our own development as leaders, but it also enables us to more accurately share key leadership principles with others. In the end, it keeps us from throwing the leadership baby out with the bath water.

Share Your Thoughts: What great leadership lessons have you learned from leaders who later had meaningful failures? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

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