The most frequent question I’ve been asked in the last 20 years when speaking with younger professionals is always about success. They ask it in their own words, but it comes down to this question, What has helped you the most to be successful?

I’m flattered when I hear the question because it implies someone other than my wife thinks I’ve been successful. But the true answer to this question often surprises them because my answer is, “I failed.” What? Yes, with each failing, I learned something to do better, like a question I should have asked, something I hadn’t considered, or I learned something about myself. Some lessons were more painful than others, but they were all valuable.

The late Rick Majerus was a great college basketball coach and among those who taught the game of basketball, there were few better. During his tenure at St. Louis University, his last position before passing in 2012 due to heart issues, he said something similar in talking about the kids he coached and their parents, which is also true for leadership.

(Parents) want to take all the pain, all the heartache and all the sadness out of their kids’ lives. All the things that make you a better person, a better coach, a better teacher—all the things that are so much the fabric of life. I’m so much better for every loss I’ve had. – Rick Majerus, Sports Illustrated, January 21, 2008

Leadership and parenting have many similarities, both are focused on developing someone for their future. As a leader, you aren’t just thinking of one or two people (average number of children per family in America is just under 2), it’s your entire team (average 15-20) or your division or an entire organization. How do you prepare them to succeed, but also prepare them for adversity? You can’t grow without adversity, so your role is to challenge and stretch them, even to a point where they are overwhelmed, frustrated, and yes, they mess up. They will also fail. That’s uncomfortable because if you’re human, you don’t enjoy watching someone struggle or fail.

What do some parents and leaders do? They take the burdens and stress away from them, thinking it’s too much for them. Some become the snowplow, clearing the path in the way of their child or their staff. If someone on your team has a conflict with another department, they don’t push them to work it out, they go address it for them with the other department head. Stop, that’s not your job. You’re doing things for them that they can and should do for themselves, it you let them. If you want to do it all yourself, I suggest you get out of leadership because your job is to make yourself obsolete.

If your team never struggles, you’ll miss the best moments with them. The growth moments will always be when things are going wrong. It’s when they’ll listen to you, it’s when they’re ready to learn. When everything is going well, it’s smooth sailing, it’s all about them and trust me, they aren’t listening to you. The struggle helps them reach their full potential.

Remember, if you’re a parent or a leader,

Everything you do for me, you take away from me.” Maria Montessori

The more failures we have, the more successful we will be.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Romans 5:3-4 (TLB)

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