Learning from Failure

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The beginning of the year is wonderful. The world is very much defined by renewed enthusiasm and conviction to lead a better life in the new calendar year than the one led in the past. Twitter is a great place to see these proclamations of new focus and energy. The one word movement started by Jon Gordon has reached an enormous number of people and is profoundly important and revered in the educational community – where I spend the lion’s share of my time.

As I spent time thinking about the future, I could not in good conscious jump forward without taking a look back. This exercise was healthy, but really painful. Every year I feel make progress as a leader, educator, and human being – just not enough.

I decided that the best way to prepare for the new year and process through the previous year was to highlight my low-lights. Here are the three areas I feel I failed as a leader in 2017. My hope is that this reflection helps me to learn from my errors and hopefully helps you learn from my mistakes before you make similar ones.


I have definitive strengths as a leader. I process material quickly, am able to see the big picture, connect dots for others, and am not afraid to take a stand. Arguably my greatest strength is the ability to get stuff done. I grind my face off.

Where I struggle sometimes is in coalition building, going slow to go fast, and creating team synergy independent of my efforts. Nothing I have written in these two paragraphs is something I learned in 2017. Nor will my list of strengths and areas for growth be the exact same for anyone reading this.

What I did in 2017 that I will not do in 2018 is spend time trying to lead from my weaknesses. Let me explain, I spent far too much time and energy trying to be the perfect leader and building up my areas of growth in 2017 to expand my repertoire and lead in a different way.

In doing so, I lost a little bit of myself along the way and in many cases my organization did not achieve the results I believe were possible. In 2018, I am leading from my strengths while being mindful of my challenges. I am not doing the opposite as I did in 2017.


I love autonomy. Words simply cannot express how much I love being able to be the driver of my daily work and actions. I love working toward a goal – but just provide me the goal, do not provide me the tactics necessary to achieve that end. Autonomy is my love language.

I spent much of 2017 (and the years prior) leading in this fashion. I loved autonomy so clearly so did my people. What occurred is some misdirection, indecision, and the feeling of occasionally being on an island for my people.

Simply, I led the way I liked to be led instead of in the manner my people and my organization needed me to lead. In edu-speak I did not personalize the experience for my people. Instead, I ‘taught’ the way I ‘learned’ and in trying to do what was best for my people I ended up under-serving them.

With this new awareness comes responsibility. 2018 will be different.


I coach several leaders in other organizations and always find it troubling how I can truly and deeply invest in those leaders with a different level of empathy and patience. The ability to invest in others with no accountability for their performance is empowering. It helped me to try and maximize their strengths and focus less on fixing their areas for growth.

With my people in my organization it was different. I worked with them deeply and personally, but often to fix their faults instead of finding ways to leverage their strengths. I was trying to create perfect leaders instead of a perfect organization capitalizing on the unique strengths each of them brought to the table.

This year I strive to amplify each and every one of my people’s strengths instead of constantly working with them to mitigate their areas of possible improvement. My hope is this outlook provides a new and different level of confidence for my people so that they can help me to create the best version of our unique team.

One Comment

  • Jon Bartelt

    This is great! With a focus on leading (and encouraging others to lead) with their strengths, you will be able to more effectively delegate projects and tasks to those who have demonstrated strengths in those areas. They will have a higher probability to be successful and will feel empowered that you trust them enough to handle a particular responsibility. Best yet, kids win! Great reflection P.J.

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