Failure is a Prerequisite

In a previous post I wrote an open letter to leaders who I can’t bring myself to trust. A recent blog from Don Miller further explores similar themes and offers a helpful corrective. He tells us the story of Robert McNamara, the architect of the US war in Vietnam who died recently. Years after the war McNamara took the remarkable step of writing a book where he articulated all the ways he had been wrong and all his regrets. In spiritual circles we’d call it confession and repentance. The point Don makes is that unless we have the true confidence that allows us to open admit our mistakes our leadership is very likely to leave behind a legacy of wounded and disillusioned people. Sadly, the leader who causes all the damage is usually unaware of the harm, blissfully focused on the things ahead and the faithful followers who accept, ignore, or feed the problem. There is risk involved in admitting mistakes. It is a vulnerable move, exposing the leader to the critics and enemies that are muted by constant success. Having the confidence to open up to attacks requires confidence based not only in personal performance but rooted in something deeper; identity, relationship, character, faith. Of course there is a need for discretion. It is equally insecure to parade our weaknesses in something roughly akin to public masturbation. The ability to discern how, where, and when to admit failure is not simple. One of the first failures we ought to admit is our need to have wise guidane about these kinds of issues. When have you seen a leader admit failure? How did people respond?