Overcoming the Feeling of Failure

Leaders know that the things they do and the people they serve with will not always succeed. They know that their organizations sometimes resist change even when threatened with decline.

Disappointment may lead to feeling like a failure.   In a recent blog Seth Godin wrote: Feeling like a failure has little correlation with actually failing.”

I know the feeling.   In my various leadership assignments when at times it seemed that more went wrong than went right, when the annual reports were less than stellar, when personnel performed poorly, and when I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, I felt it.

In leadership as well as life there must be a better way of handling disappointment than feeling like a failure.

Perhaps we are overly influenced by the Vince Lombardi philosophy of competitive athletics – “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

We will never be the best at everything we do.   We won’t always win or succeed. Sometimes our best efforts fail.

A few observations about overcoming the feeling of failure –

  • There are circumstances beyond our control that affect the success or failure of any position, project or person.
  • Feeling the disappointment of failure is not the same as being a failure.
  • Failure and success are not the same as winning and losing.
  • Metrics are not always, perhaps never, a good measure of success and failure, particularly when outcomes are not measurable.
  • It’s not failure when plans, strategies or people don’t work out.
  • Admitting that a position is not a good fit or a strategy not a good plan is not failure.
  • We need to be careful not to act on our feelings of failure.   As the recovery community teaches us: feel—think—act.
This entry was posted in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Overcoming the Feeling of Failure

  1. Russ Long says:

    Tom, this is the blog I have been wanting to write but just couldn’t seem to sort through all that I have been thinking on this issue. One thought has occurred to me is that despite this thoughtful perspective, we live in a culture that celebrates winners and losers particularly every weekend when the scores for our favorite teams are posted. Whether it be Kellerman’s focus on contexts or Godin’s focus on framing our context rationally, at least a few of us struggle with some emotional realities that undermine the rational. Your blog is a reminder that managing expectations is a continual process. Thanks.

  2. Gary Morsch says:


    I’ve just stepped off a plane in Munich, and read your latest blog. Your message is so important, not just for the church, of course, but for businesses, non-profits, individuals—your poignant words speak to everyone. While on the plane, I read a review of a recent business book, reviewed in the Economist, that deals with “failure.” Unfortunately, I left the magazine on the plane, so don’t have the title or author! We live in a corporate culture that does not deal well with failure. So called failure can be an important element in developing leaders, and an element that must be better understood and positively managed.

  3. Oliver says:

    Tom, we all need to hear you on this. I am reminded of what our District Assemblies and other convocations have become — a coronation of quantifiable winners. While this should be done, we miss the essential narrative of so many who labor in places filled with “God-stories.” Numerical indicators have become the only story at the expense of authentic expressions of who God is and what God is doing, and honoring. Failures should be viewed as temporary and situational, rather than terminal. THANKS!

  4. Bill Dyment says:

    Failures become successes if they lead us to depence on the God who knows no failure. In retrospect, they become touchstones of where we have been and future reminders of how far God has brought us. Our lives are marked by moments of failure where God intervened and we matured; confident in the knowledge that He will be there in our future failures and successes.

  5. Jesse Middendorf says:

    Thank you, Tom. This is a much needed reminder that our fear of failure should not immobilize us, or that the experience of having failed in an attempt to accomplish something of value, should not keep us from trying again.

    You are a great source of encouragement and counsel to so many!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *