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How Do Strong Leaders Navigate Failure?

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When you’re in a leadership position, you’re not only thinking about your success, but you’re also thinking about the success of your individual team members and your team as a whole. And while success is certainly the goal, we can still experience failure along the way. So, how do top leaders navigate failures of a team member or their whole team? Let’s look at some of the key ways that successful leaders approach failure:

They allow it.

Yes, even when the end goal is success, the best leaders allow space for failure. This is for multiple reasons. First, striving to avoid failure at all costs can trap you in a stagnant comfort zone where you’re unwilling to take risks and try new things. Leaders who want a successful team can’t afford to adopt this mindset themselves, and they certainly don’t want to set that example for their team members. Second, top leaders don’t micromanage. They empower their employees, they trust them, and they give them space to grow as professionals. This sometimes comes with the risk of failure. While leaders need to be cautious with how much risk they allow their team members to take on, allowing their employees to work independently and take on real responsibility is essential.

They create a dialogue.

When your team fails to reach a goal, for example, how do you respond? Leaders who embark on a monologue or lecture are not doing their team any favors. Whether it’s with your entire team or an individual employee, when leaders need to address failure, they make it a conversation. They start by asking questions. What happened? What went wrong? What could have been done better? They’re asking themselves these questions as well. They give their team members the opportunity to participate in the discussion and create a plan to move forward together. The best leaders are there to support, facilitate, and guide these discussions, not to monopolize them.

They find the value.

One of the most important things a leader can teach his or her team members is how to find the lesson in failure. Those discussions you have around failure will often be the perfect opportunity to do so. This isn’t about sugar coating a failure. It’s about showing your team how to maximize any situation, how to find value even in things that don’t seem positive. Does your team know what caused the failure? What insights have they gained? Showing your team members to find the value in failure empowers them to keep striving, even after a disappointment.

They move on.

As a leader, the ultimate responsibility lies with you. Leaders who blame their employees and who hold mistakes and failures against them will never succeed. Top leaders take ownership of the failure of their team, they work together with their employees to better understand the situation, and then they move on. They don’t hold it over their employees or bring it up down the line. The best leaders ensure that their team members know they still have your trust.


When a team fails, leaders need to be prepared to step up to the plate. They need to be able to take ownership themselves and to engage with their team members in a way that’s empowering and motivating. The way a leader responds to failure can make or break the team. If you’re going to strive for ambitious goals with your team, failure may be a part of the process. The best leaders know how to take this in stride and prevent it from slowing their team down.