A basketball coach who had led his school to 12 conference championships in 15 years had interviewed for Power 5 coaching jobs without being chosen to “move up” in the college game. As another long day of interview and dinner was coming to a close, he told an Athletics Director, “One of these days, someone is going to give me a chance, and when they do, I am going to make them look real good.”1
Prior to the 2000 NFL season, a skinny rookie, coming down the stadium steps with a pizza box under his arm, happened to meet the team owner. The rookie told the owner, “I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.” This rookie’s performance during the NFL combine was legendary for how bad it was. The owner refused to share what his thoughts were about the rookie’s confident claim.2
The basketball coach is Wes Moore, head coach of the NC State University Wolfpack Women’s Basketball team. Athletics Director Debbie Yow hired him after his successful run at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Coach Moore has led the Wolfpack Women’s team back to prominence in the ACC and the NCAA. The skinny rookie who exhibited extreme confidence was…Tom Brady.
Coach Moore and Tom Brady demonstrate a principle of life; leaders and entrepreneurs are willing to take risks others prefer to avoid. Coach Moore could have remained in the Southern Conference where he had been wildly successful. The risk of the NC State job in the current ACC was substantial. Tom Brady had little, other than his personal confidence, to show for his claim. Both made statements that drew the attention of others. This attention is accompanied by the bright light that magnifies mistakes.
The careers of Moore and Brady also exhibit that leaders learn from failure. Failure is inevitable. Everyone has to face failure in some way during our lifetime. Some will internalize the failure. Some will dwell upon it and shrink from ever taking such a risk again. Others will learn from the failure. They will analyze how it happened. They will reflect upon it in a good way. If we choose to change the behavior and decisions that led to the failure, we can avoid repeatedly making the same mistake.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is filled with hitters that failed two times more than they succeeded. Michael Jordan is said to have missed 26 game winning shots!3 The best pitchers of all time have experienced giving up the game winning hit. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees have each thrown the interception that sealed the loss of a game. Quincy McKnight, a friend I met in Nashville some years ago, worded it this way in a recent post, “Failure always brings you a gift…every single time…it’s called experience. Keep pushing through.”4
If you are a leader of a congregation, nonprofit, business, your classroom, or your home, you will experience the discouragement and loneliness that comes with failure at some level. Do not seek an excuse for the failure. Do not blame it on unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances (though they certainly contributed). Learn from them and refuse to make the same mistake again!
God has given you the gifts, skills, and traits he intended for you in creation. As the Psalmist wrote, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. God wants the best for you. God desires you to be a leader at some level somewhere. That does not mean he provides a bubble preventing mistakes and failures. God will build upon failures for greater service in the days and years ahead. Lead on in his name!