Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Now, it is easy for wordsmiths like me to tout such pithy phrases during challenging times, but when you tease out Churchill’s words they are instructive to all of us who would hope to lead.
Success is not final. So celebrate it NOW. Don’t wait for the big giant wins. Acknowledge the daily steps forward — both yours and those of the people you lead. You can hold people accountable for reaching their goals while still encouraging and thanking them, along the way. What “mini-celebration” is in order today? Ice cream for the team . . . a written thank you note . . . a heartfelt compliment for someone’s novel solution to a unique challenge.
Far too often, we don’t even take time to celebrate the big wins, much less the small steps forward. Success in one area merely becomes a blip on the screen toward the next goal. Maybe we think we’ll come back and celebrate it once we complete the entire project. Except we won’t. Even when it feels like we have reached the peak, there will always be other mountains to climb. Success is not final — so give yourself and your people permission to take a moment to smile, to pat each other on the back and and acknowledge your good work . . today. Success is not a destination. It is a feeling generated by the leader each step of the way.
Failure is not fatal. Yes, it may feel like it at the moment. And the more you cared about the project at hand, the worse it hurts when you come up short. So give yourself a moment to catch your breath and feel the pain of the situation (notice I said a moment, not a month), honestly ask yourself what you learned from the experience, and then dust yourself off and take a step. Will people trust you, will they believe you know what you are doing after you just failed? That all depends. Have you built a culture that recognizes that experimentation and making adjustments are part of the process? Can you acknowledge where you came up short and ask others to help you find a different solution? Are you overwhelmed by what you can’t control, or are you able to identify what you can control and start planning from there? You have the power to decide if failure is fatal, or serves as a launchpad to future success.
It is the courage to continue that counts. Or to use another Churchill quote, “When you’re going through hell keep going.” Leadership is hard. There are days when the successes are fleeting and the weight of failure feels unbearable. Take a step. It doesn’t have to be huge or especially noteworthy, but move. Keep going. Failure infects the stagnant. So don’t be stagnant. Take a step. Consider it an act of rebellion if that helps . . . a refusal to let failure win.
Lots of people can follow a clearly identified path. But when those best laid plans go awry? That’s when you need a leader . . . not a perfect one who has never failed . . . simply with the courage to continue.