We’ve often heard the expression “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” An extension of this idea is that failure and obstacles are good things. Yet this thinking for the general populace doesn’t seem to apply to leaders.
When these concepts are applied to leadership it can take the form of a career requirement. Steven Snyder, author of Leadership and The Art of The Struggle, argues “struggle and leadership are intertwined…Great leaders use failure as a wake up call.”
Yet, our culture, and the media that propels it, favors promoting the image of a leader who is faultless, has made no mistakes and has a Teflon-like movie-star image. As Bill George argues, we quickly turn away from leaders who have made mistakes and the media tries to bury them.
Despite the substantial amount of psychological research and anecdotal evidence that demonstrates how failure and adversity can be of great benefit to leaders, we continue to insist on perfection.
Snyder argues that great leaders don’t use failure as a reason to blame others, don’t avoid responsibility or become victims, but rather, “seek out the counsel of a mentor and/or turn their attention inward for reflection and introspection.” He advances the following principles of his “Struggle Lens” that can guide leaders: