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Failing with Purpose: Failing Forward - WinShape Teams

Failing With Purpose: Failing Forward

June 4, 2018
Lead Self
Dr. Chris Auger

What do U.S. Navy SEALs, start up entrepreneurs, Meg Whitman, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, and President Lincoln all have in common?

They share an unshakeable optimism and resilience to learn from their failures. These leaders did not give failure the power to negatively drive the future; instead, they used it to bring clarity to future efforts.

For a long time, I thought I feared failure. However, in reflecting back on my time as a Navy SEAL, I realized what I had (and still have) is a healthy respect for failure. I recognize that failure should be embraced and used it as fuel to become better. The purposeful act of embracing failed attempts and very intentionally using those instances to “fail forward” has helped me navigate some of life’s lowest valleys. Refusing to allow the failure to anchor me to the past and choosing to fail forward has provided me with many lessons and opportunities to become better and stronger!

Servant leaders, followers, and teammates do not allow the fear of failure to paralyze their influence, creativity, or innovation. They have an intentional “fail forward” mindset, knowing there will be failure at some point along the journey.

Expecting the best of others carries with it the knowledge and expectation that everyone, including you, will fail at some point.

True servant leaders don’t dwell on the failures; they learn from them, grow from them, and use those lessons to make them stronger in the future. They embody a fail forward mindset and use it as one of their leadership assets. Three ways to live out a fail forward mindset are:  

Learn from the Past.

Effective leaders are intentional about scheduling time in their calendars to reflect and think about their journeys. Adopt this discipline, if you have not already done so. Take notes or journal during these reflective moments to capture important thoughts.  

Seek Out Other Perspectives.

No one is as smart, as educated, as skilled or had all the experiences of everyone around them. Take time to engage others and ask them for their thoughts. Hunt for the nuggets of wisdom and use them as part of a failing forward mindset.

Exercise the fail forward mindset muscles.

Ideating and trying innovative and creative ideas in low-risk environments will build confidence.

A strong and healthy fail forward mindset requires intentionality. It develops over time! It starts with you!

Set out to develop your fail forward mindset now. These points will serve to guide you as you begin:


  • Identify three innovative or creative ideas that you can try at work, home, or with friends. Try a new way to do meetings. (e.g. 15-minute stand up meetings in which no one sits; integrate a specific family game night to build family community; try new group activities like painting or visiting random historical sites.) Find something uniquely different that will stretch the group. The goal is to get used to stepping out and trying something new. Understand it is fine if it doesn’t work out or is not appreciated.


  • Once you have picked your three innovative ideas, decide on which one you will commit to first and then “DO” it.


  • Afterwards, take some time to write down your thoughts. What were you thinking and feeling during the attempt? How about after? List the lessons you were able to glean from the challenge. How will you use these lessons going forward?


  • Repeat this process enough times to shape a healthy and positive fail forward mindset! Try using the process with your team!

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