The Failure Advantage

When I present the notion of positive leadership, I often build on the concept of the “twice-born leader.” Managers grow up with a conventional perspective. Some have a crisis that causes them to clarify their values and purpose. They become “twice born.” They have a new perspective that gives rise to a more complex and dynamic self.

One element of the change has to do with their locus of control. They are now less driven by the external culture and more driven by their own values, purpose, feelings, and thinking. They question the culture and the conventional assumptions that hold the organization in place. They see in new ways and behave accordinly. They begin to lead by changing the culture.

The thing that is hard to understand is that positive leadership includes leadership failure. When I teach positive leadership, members of an audience often assume that the change is complete and the positive leader must be perfect. To challenge, they look for the flaws in any given example. They point out some kind of limitation in the person so as to negate the theory.

This was occurring recently in a company with a purpose-driven leader. A member of the audience then made a potent observation. He described a recent period when the leader was frustrated and angry. He said that the leader went back to his old ways and in every room he entered, everyone shut down. This went on for several weeks. Then the leader recognized what he was doing. He apologized and made a dramatic shift.

The point is precious. When someone becomes a twice-born, purpose-driven leader, they do not become a perfected object, a noun. They become a verb, a dynamic human being in a dynamic organization. Often they have setbacks and in these down times can revert to their old ways. Yet they have something I call the failure advantage of positive leaders.

Once you internalize the positive lens and begin to live as a proactive influence, you still fail, but as you fail and turn negative, you become more quickly aware that you are a source of negativity. What you believe calls you to awareness and to change. Instead of continuing to blame others, you take charge of yourself, you self-correct, and move into a more positive stance.

Reflection

  • What implications for us are carried in the concept of the twice-born leader?
  • Why is it natural to try to neutralize the concept?
  • When failing, what is the advantage of the twice-born leader?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?
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