ARTICLE: Great leaders must fail — forward!
This article originally appears in Gulf News.
What qualifies me to talk to you about leadership in this new column? I am, after all, the poster child for failure…
You don’t believe me? Well, let me put it this way – once the editor of the Guardian newspaper in my home country, Trinidad and Tobago, wanted me on the cover of their Woman Wise Magazine. I told them I was interested only if the cover title read “The New Face of Failure”. I wanted to make a much needed point so we can start having some uncomfortable crucial conversations, that’s all. However, as you can imagine, they never published the story. Cowards!
So here goes…
In order for me to start discussing anything about leadership that can be of any help to you and your children, we need to address the ‘elephant in the room’ which is failure. What does failure have to do with leadership? All great leaders fail ten times as much as the average person. This is how one great leader, who is as familiar to us as the light bulb is, put it:
Why does the word failure carry so much weight? It has the power to stop us dead in our tracks because we have been conditioned to believe in the dictionary definition of the word — ‘missing something or failing to achieve’. So it makes us cry, rant and rave, feel ashamed and miserable; we become bitter towards ourselves and the world, and sadly, even towards our children.
Well, from my own experience — and I am not alone on this — here’s what I’ve learned: Failure often is a much-needed detour or a delay to warn us that we were probably going down the wrong road in the first place; it gives us the opportunity to begin again — just more intelligently this time. Failure seems to be the best way to find our courage and bring forth the greatness within us. And failure, if we look closely, is an event, never a person. No human being can ever be a failure!
So here’s what I need you to do. (It is a bit radical, I know. But we’ve just met, so indulge me, please.) Go put on something black when you have some quiet time. Then visualise yourself as a monument in a park. That monument represents the greatness of your life while you were here. What I want you to do is write down the words that will be etched at the bottom of the monument. BUT they can only consist of the failures and mistakes in your life.
No, I am not kidding — I do not want to see any accomplishments. All right then, I’ll do mine first: “Here is Sallyann Della Casa. If only she had found the courage to leave her law practice and find/follow her passion sooner, recognised earlier in her life her creative gift and the grandeur of her dreams, had children when she first got married 14 years ago, and trusted her gut more…” And so it goes on.
Now you know the story of my life! Well then, take a clean sheet of paper and do yours.
After you are done — and go crazy with this exercise, please — I want you to have a Failure Funeral. Take your lot of Failure and bury or burn it ceremoniously. Once buried or cremated, it is gone. And like at any funeral, I will allow you a few days of mourning. When we forget to mourn, we are often stuck at the same place. So take a few days, mourn the person you were — with all those mistakes and failures weighing you down — because that person no longer exists. When you have finally bid goodbye, you can stop wearing black. It can happen in a day or over a few days. Do not rush time.
Why am I asking you to do this? Well, you will never be a brilliant leader or parent while you’re carrying all of that baggage. And for you to grow into a great leader and also develop your children into rockstar leaders of tomorrow — which is the purpose of this column — you need to be mentally ready.
I will leave you now, but until I get back to you in the next issue of this column, here’s something for you. I want you to post on your refrigerator door, or in a very visible place in a picture frame with photos of your family accompanying it, the following quote I just saw and fell in love with at my friend’s house:
Just remember – greatness is within you!