Servant Leadership Workplace-Learning Failure

Leadership and Learning (from Failure)

Servant Leadership Workplace-Learning Failure

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

That’s a quote from President John F. Kennedy. Wiser words have rarely been spoken.*

And in a sense, President Kennedy’s words are getting wiser with each passing day.

“Today,” writes Daniel J. Levitan, “we are confronted with an unprecedented amount of information, and each of us generates more information than ever before in human history.”

Indeed, Levitan continues, “In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 – the equivalent of 175 newspapers.”

I see two main implications of this information overload for leaders – especially servant-leaders.

First, it’s important to cultivate an “organized mind,” to use Levitan’s phrase. In his best-selling book by that name, Levitan provides business leaders with practical advice on getting and keeping organized. I recommend it.**

Second, leaders have to be learning constantly.

Learning fast.

Learning well.

Those who don’t learn fast enough and well enough will probably not be leaders for long. Especially in the workplace.

Moreover, employees who don’t learn may be replaced by those who do. Companies that don’t learn may go out of business.

Sorry if this news stresses you out. But let’s face it, we work in a stressful world. Every day the workplace seems more global, more competitive, more complex and more rapidly moving. I don’t see that trend reversing.

So, how do servant-leaders stay ahead of the learning curve?

One way is to learn from failure.

In places like Silicon Valley, you can hear advice to “fail fast” or “fail forward.” It’s not that people there set out to fail. But they recognize that in global, competitive, complex and rapidly-moving business contexts, some amount of failure is inevitable.

The best leaders – individuals and companies – don’t glorify mistakes, errors and failures; they cultivate an ability to adapt and learn from them.

With this attitude, the best leaders want failure to come, if it must, as quickly as possible. That way they can learn and move forward ahead of others.

Indeed, in my experience, modern servant-leaders use failure as a learning opportunity.

What do you think? Do you see a connection between servant-leadership and learning from failure? What are we missing here?


As always, we appreciate your views.


* The quote is from a speech President Kennedy was scheduled to give at the Trade Mart in Dallas on the day he was assassinated, November 22, 1963.

** On Amazon: The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload