Books abound on the nature and practice of leadership but one thing has stood out to me in all my reading: True leaders often experience failure.
Abraham Lincoln faced countless setbacks during the civil war. He was a deeply divisive figure, hated by many in his lifetime. Gandhi failed in his dream of uniting Muslims and Hindus together in a single nation. Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison, accused of treason and regarded as a violent agitator. Winston Churchill was held in low regard by the 1930s, and even after his heroic leadership during the Second World War was voted out of office at the first General Election after the war was over.
Principle: Heroes only appear heroic in retrospect when the setbacks and/or failures they faced can finally be seen as stepping stones to their greatness. Whether spiritual or secular, leaders are tested not by their successes but by their failures. It takes no special skill to succeed when the times are favorable. It's when situations and conditions change that character is tested.
The great men and women of history are not those who never failed. They are those who survived failure, who kept on going, who refused to be defeated, who never gave up or gave in. They kept striving and they learned from every mistake. They viewed failure as a learning experience. Defeat was not an option; their drive was to become stronger, wiser and more determined.
Jim Collins, in his book HOW THE MIGHTY FALL, explains it this way:
The signature of the truly great versus the merely successful is not the absence of difficulty, but the ability to come back from setbacks, even cataclysmic catastrophes, stronger than before ... The path out of darkness begins with those exasperatingly persistent individuals who are constitutionally incapable of capitulation. It's one thing to suffer a staggering defeat… and entirely another to give up on the values and aspirations that make the protracted struggle worthwhile. Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, without end.
The truth is that greatness cannot be achieved without failure. There are heights you cannot climb without first having stumbled. Defeats, delays and disappointments hurt. But quitting is not an option; not if you're on the road to greatness.
In those times we feel discouraged and demoralized, it behooves us to remember that today's heroes, today's 'greats' suffered failures. At times they were dismissed as troublemakers, even fools, but they never lost FAITH. What made them great is that they kept going. The road to success always passes through valleys of failure. There is no other way.
So, my friends, let's be strong and carry on. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
As the prophet Nehemiah declared: "They joy of the Lord is my strength" and I would add,
especially during difficult times that we all face at one time or another.