by Rob Cizek
Transparency is all the rage in leadership circles these days. Faith in our once-trusted institutions has been severely taxed. Many see scandals and selfishness when they look at the government, media, religion, charity and business. The thinking is that leaders can combat this increasing cynicism by being transparent.
Some aspects of transparency are no-brainers. It makes sense to keep people informed about what’s happening in the organization and why. Transparently admitting to your leadership weaknesses is harder, but it’s obvious (people see your weaknesses anyway, you owning them just shows that you’re honest with yourself.)
However, there is one aspect of transparency of which I have never been quite convinced – sharing your failures. I already know leaders have had failures . . . it’s a given. We’re human after all. Listening to leaders recount their failures can seem like false humility . . . or “forced” because the leader thinks its a trendy thing to do.
All of my skepticism about sharing failures came to an end recently, because of a lesson my son taught me. He was asked to speak at a commissioning breakfast for graduates. My son shared ten things that graduates should know as they move on. He had A LOT of great advice. In the days following, many people remarked to me how much they appreciated the speech. Strangely, despite the large quantity of excellent content, nearly everyone focused on the same part of his speech. It was the part where he mentioned failure.
My son was elected to student government in all three years of middle school. When he got to high school he ran again . . . only to lose. Then he campaigned the following year and lost. It was uncomfortable territory for someone who was generally used to being successful. My son then shared that while God had closed the doors in student government, he opened up an even greater leadership opportunity in a different area.
The graduates latched on to my son’s story. They remembered it and discussed it. Seeing him try, fail and then ultimately prosper resonated with them. It made it okay for them to do the same.
Leaders, this is how to share failure in an authentic way . . . when it genuinely helps others. People get the heart behind what we do. When our motives are pure people will see that we are transparent for their sake (and not simply to call attention to ourselves or that we can jump on a leadership trend.) Stories of failure are a gift to others, helping them learn and liberating them to try new things (even if they risk failure.)
As a leader, have you shared your failures? What was the response? Leave a comment below.
It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure. – Bill Gates
All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes. – Winston Churchill
Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself. – Eleanor Roosevelt
Rob Cizek is Executive Pastor at Northshore Christian Church, a non-denominational church of 1,500 and Christian academy of 1000 in the Seattle area. He oversees daily operation of the organization and its ministries. He also organizes a networking group for executive pastors in the Puget Sound area. Rob, his wife, Janice, and two children live in Everett, WA. Rob regularly posts resources for church leaders on RobCizek.com and Twitter at: twitter.com/robcizek.
This post originally appeared here June 17, 2013. Used with permission from the author.