What words that resonate in your mind when you are faced with a challenge?
For me, it is a quote from a leader that I admire, Sir Winston Churchill:
“SUCCESS IS NOT FINAL. FAILURE IS NOT FATAL. IT IS THE COURAGE TO CONTINUE THAT COUNTS.”
It is an eloquent statement, and the message is powerful. Regarded as an amazing orator, Churchill chose his words carefully and put tremendous thought into his messages. He understood the power of persuasion. His words were applicable to the politician, the warrior, the upper class and the poor alike. He had empathy for all people, and focused on speaking in a common tongue.
When I repeat this quote, it reminds me that I have a responsibility every day to improve, regardless of the current success I might celebrate. It also reiterates that failing does not make me a failure, but builds my experience and wisdom in my effort to continue moving forward. And lastly, the word “courage” by itself brings a feeling of empowerment. Imagine being in the room when Churchill spoke these words, in his calm and knowing demeanor, and feeling the confidence he spoke with.
It is human nature to avoid failure, and we are all guilty of negative self-talk that can derail our accomplishments. This is where courage becomes a critical trait to possess as a leader. No innovation, discovery or breakthrough has ever been accomplished without a series of failures; some so catastrophic that the only person who still believes in you, is you.
Here are a few examples of stinging failure that ended with stunning success:
Abraham Lincoln — From his first foray into the Illinois state legislature in 1832 to his presidential election in 1860, Lincoln lost eight races for various political offices. Despite all these setbacks, he didn’t quit running for office, because he was committed to making an impact on his country. Not only did his tenacity finally pay off in a successful presidential race, but those prior failures gave him the skills to lead the nation through a turbulent time. Today, many regard his four years in office as one of the most respected and successful presidencies in history. Without his advocacy for equal rights, many Americans wouldn’t be able to vote today, proving just how long his legacy has endured.
Henry Ford — While you might not love your daily commute, you should still thank Henry Ford for making it, and many other forms of modern transportation, possible. After watching his first automobile business go bankrupt in a year, he easily could have quit, or at least tried to break into another industry. But he trusted his ideas enough to believe in them, even when no one else did. Finally, in 1903, he saw success in the Model A and then, most famously, the Model T in 1908.
Besides being the father of popular and affordable transportation, he also invented the modern assembly line. Though his long business career was filled with both successes and failures, he met each one with the resilience he’d taught himself from the very beginning.
Michael Jordan — Many basketball fans and players view Michael Jordan as the ultimate game-changer. But this NBA All-Star MVP might have never made it past his high school basketball court if he’d given up after his first failure. As a high school sophomore, Jordan was cut from the varsity basketball team. Instead of being discouraged, it motivated him to put in extra practice time and made the team the following year. Learning this lesson of dedication early on allowed Jordan to succeed later in both college and professional basketball — no matter what obstacles came his way. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed,” he famously said. “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Walt Disney — Everyone’s heard the phrase: “It all started with a mouse,” but Walt Disney’s long and successful career actually started with the end to his first job. When Disney was in his early 20s, the Kansas City Star fired him because his editor thought he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Despite this criticism, Disney went on to found Laugh-o-gram Studios — which went bankrupt. To overcome these setbacks, Disney went back to the drawing board … literally.
Even after creating the now world-famous character, Mickey Mouse, Disney couldn’t find distribution for any of the first, silent animated shorts featuring Mickey. Once sound made its way into film, however, Disney created a new short, Steamboat Willie, which became an instant sensation cartoon that finally set his lifelong success into motion.
J.K. Rowling — When we hear her name, we think of the boy wizard that created a multi-million-dollar literary empire. But there is a backstory which proves that having a dream and persistence can make that dream a reality. Rowling spent many years struggling to make ends meet while living on welfare, with no real vision of how to create a better life for her and her newborn daughter. She was a single mother, clinically depressed and jobless. Her daughter inspired her to reengage herself in what she found as an outlet, writing. The idea for Harry Potter had come years before, on a train ride from Manchester to London, but she had put it aside.
Her original pitch for Harry Potter was rejected 12 times by publishers, but Rowling would not give up. Fast-forward to 1999, and her dream had come true. With over 450 million books sold, Rowling has not forgotten her past. Rowling was awarded the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List in 2000, and was an eminent philanthropist contributing money and support to notable charities all around the world.
All of these people had one thing in common: they did not allow themselves to give up on their dreams although they actually failed on the way to their success.
“FAILURE IS SIMPLY THE OPPORTUNITY TO BEGIN AGAIN, THIS TIME MORE INTELLIGENTLY.”
- Henry Ford
Once we understand that failure is not the opposite of success, but rather a critical part of it, our approach and acceptance can change.
Whether it is a project at work or investing in yourself to achieve a major goal in your life, remember . . . being afraid to fail is much worse than never trying.
I can think of no better way to end than to go back to who inspired me to begin, Sir Winston Churchill:
“SUCCESS CONSISTS OF GOING FROM FAILURE TO FAILURE WITHOUT LOSS OF ENTHUSIASM.”
Make a difference today.
LEADERSHIP IS A PRIVILEGE.
VENTURE. LEAD. PROSPER.