Becoming A Failure-Tolerant Leader

By Carolyne Njogu|16-01-2020 | 4 Min Read
Are you a failure-tolerant leader?
I didn’t get consumed by losses, and I didn’t get overwhelmed by successes.~ Don Shula (legendary NFL coach), The Failure-Tolerant Leader


Life’s silver linings come from all sort of places and experiences if we are willing to quiet our minds to listen and behold them. For to come alive is to awaken to the beauty and reality of what has eluded you, yet is ubiquitous and quite frankly right in front of your eyes. 

When this happens, often by serendipity, we experience joy unspeakable, grow tremendously, and come alive to being authentically who we truly are. Imbued with wit and capacity to be all we choose to be. 

How does this come about? 

Clarity is where it all starts! You will need to ascertain the origins of the challenge, issue or the inspiration in some cases. This demands self-awareness, self-analysis, self-reflection, self-ownership and self-embracing/love – that is tough, and often time consuming but yet gratifying. 

Note however that breakthroughs are breakthroughs because they result from a buildup or a tipping point. In essence, understand that hardships, mishaps, mistakes, challenges, and hurdles are inevitable in life. 

Consider the following:

Clarity comes from chaos…

Opportunities come from obstacles…

Message comes from mess…

Triumph comes from trouble…

Success comes from struggle… 

Pleasure comes from pain… 


You may have heard it said that the most trying moments of our lives are also the most glorious times in our lives. What a paradox? 

A Harvard Business Review article, The Failure-Tolerant Leader, notes (and business, science and political leaders acknowledge) that:

“The fastest way to succeed,” IBM’s Thomas Watson, Sr. once said, “is to double your failure rate.”

In recent years, more and more executives have embraced this point of view, coming to understand what innovators have always known: that failure is a prerequisite to invention. A business can’t develop a breakthrough product or process if it’s not willing to encourage risk taking and learn from subsequent mistakes.”

Simply put, if we are willing to be patient to go through the process of transformation whereby we are stripped of all the foolishness, arrogance, naivety, hubris, then we are awakened to what lies on the other side.

The wisdom, humility, prudence, kindness and gentleness that delivers you the confidence that comes just because you endured the process and now have the resilience necessary to birth the authentic ‘You’.

The best way to appreciate any process is to embrace the thought that ‘this too shall pass’. After all, life comes in cycles, and complete cycles deliver to us what they must. For example, it takes three trimesters to deliver a healthy newborn, and a winter is always ensued by spring.

So, the next time you wonder why I am in the dip, why has this challenge befallen me? Ask yourself, what is life teaching me? While there though, remember that before dawn there is always a dark night! 

It’s no coincidence therefore that we humans go through a similar transformation. Yours is to master courage, embrace change, be pliable, be agile, learn, be adaptable and humble to admit when you don’t know, and take total ownership, and the rest will fall into place with time.

There is something about losing and coming back from it that burns character into a man’s soul, breeds confidence without arrogance, and makes a man believable when he talks about problems.


Evidently, when you choose to become a failure-tolerant leader to yourself first, then to others around you, you learn to appreciate the shift. The shift to embrace that what was meant to kill you only came to make you stronger. 

In fact, the more you embrace this lesson the more you’ll learn to see life experiences as the educational platforms they are, the guideposts to your best live ever. 

In a nutshell

Life’s beauty comes from transformations that we experience through some of the most trying times in life, and these are also the times that truly define and affirm who we truly are.

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Carolyne is the founding principal at VPF Strategies, a strategic and leadership development firm helping professionals and leaders design and develop growth strategies to meet their goals: Thriving Wellness, Cultures and Businesses. She is a speaker, author of Being Grounded: 21 Days To Come Alive and Love Your Life, and a contributing writer for various publications.
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