In the 1990’s I read a lot of leadership books. I guess I thought I could be a better leader if I did. But leadership is mostly formed in the trenches and with suffering, and most of whatever I know has been fought for there. There were several authors I learned from like Warren Bennis, Peter Drucker,and perhaps my favorite, Max Dupree and his books Leadership is an Art and Leadership Jazz.
But perhaps the author I read the most in the 90’s and early 2000’s on leadership was John Maxwell. A former pastor, Maxwell had become a well known leadership trainer and coach. Now 71 years old, he still writes and speaks at a prolific rate. His latest book, which I’m presently reading, is outstanding. It is titled Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. I had not read a Maxwell book for several years, and it was like meeting a friend after a long time and feeling like you had never been apart. He writes of the need for leaders to make shifts in their lives to be more effective, like shifting the focus on others to shine rather than your own self promotion. Or shifting to a focus on teams rather than on your own ability to do everything.
But here is one thing that has really stood out to me so far. Maxwell on pg. 52 writes this principle: Make your love for learning greater than your fear of failure. He writes of his need to make fear of failure his friend. Early in his career, he was speaking in Los Angeles at a conference, and felt hopelessly unqualified compared to all the other speakers. In the room for speakers before one of the events, he confessed how he felt to one of the best speakers there. Expecting words of encouragement, he was startled to hear the speaker say that actually Maxwell indeed wasn’t qualified to be there! But here was the wisdom that so impacted Maxwell from the other man, exhorting him to “Speak afraid. Be willing to do it afraid, and eventually you will be qualified.”
Wow. Speak afraid. Ever feel not qualified to do something? I have felt like that many times in my life, and still do. But instead of not doing it, or giving up in the middle, we keep going and “speak afraid”. Maxwell goes on “That was a revelation, and it created a leadershift in me. I spoke afraid, did my best, and here is what I discovered: action reduces fear and increases courage. That realization was a major step toward increasing my love for learning and decreasing my fear of failure.”
Along these same lines, John Maxwell wrote a book a few years ago titled Failing Forward. I loved that book, and have remembered it ever since. I read it in a season when I felt like a failure as a leader for several reasons, and it meant so much to me. In this portion of his recent book, he writes similar thoughts: “Don’t allow failure to be a bully in your life. It will, if you let it. Many people get intimidated by failure every day. Instead, you need to make failure your friend. Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.”
There it is. “Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.” I love that. It so describes my leadership philosophy of the trenches. I even have a teaching I do called “My top ten greatest leadership mistakes”. Really I do. Only 10 out of hundreds. But I’ve never given up, and I’ve been in this leadership drama for almost 40 years now.
Get this book and read it. Make the shifts Maxwell describes, or make your own. But never settle for the same, for a life that falls short of continuous learning and change.