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It might sound counterintuitive to say that failure is an important aspect of a successful career in leadership. In a manner of speaking, however, failure is one of life’s great schools. Whether we accept the lessons of failure or not is up to us; too often, however, refusing to learn from failure only results in more failure.

Failure as a Teacher

Failure teaches us something about life because it puts the reality of life into perspective. By nature, human beings are imperfect; we are not given the ability to see into the future or plan too far ahead without experiencing some degree of turbulence. 

To this end, every major decision in life is something akin to a wager: Unless we avoid taking any risks, in other words, we are almost mathematically certain to get some decisions wrong. And avoiding risk in order to avoid failure is just another kind of failure

Lessons in Humility

Primarily, failure teaches us much about humility. When we fail as leaders, we prove to ourselves that we have limitations. There is nothing wrong with working through our limitations: Steve Jobs was, after all, no great computer scientist. But Job’s ability to develop big ideas nonetheless revolutionized the computer industry: After being unceremoniously fired from Apple Inc., moreover, Jobs also recognized his shortcomings as a leader and did much to counterbalance the error of his ways.

A Realistic Outlook on Life

Secondly, failure is one of the only opportunities that we have in life to take a very realistic look at our decision-making process. Until we fail in a particular endeavor, in other words, it is impossible to guess how a particular line of thinking will work out for us. Life is like a series of science experiments: At best, we can develop various hypotheses and devise experiments to see if these hypotheses will bear fruit. Most will not!

Looking Towards the Future

But with enough experience under our belt, most of us will be able to develop a realistic appraisal of both our strengths and our weaknesses. And after failing in a particular line of thinking, we can approach new problems with wisdom and experience. Those qualities alone can lead us to much greater successes at later times.

Embracing failure is never easy. Some people spend their entire lives avoiding failure at all costs. But to learn about life, we must learn from our mistakes. Let us turn every failure into a lesson. Who knows what incredible things we will learn about ourselves if we have the strength to face our failures head-on!