If you wish to become a more effective leader within your organization, it makes a lot of sense to study great leaders, read what they write and what others write about them and talk to them if you can get the opportunity.
However, it also makes sense to study and talk to the leaders who have tried and failed, and to successful leaders about their failures. It’s powerful to learn from mistakes others make, especially from those who have been in positions of leadership, stressful situations and under great pressure.
Ask them to share with you not only what not to do and but learn also what to do instead. It’s very difficult for anyone to focus only on what not to do. It’s important you gain from these leaders what they would do again if they had the chance to do it over again – hindsight is a powerful 20-20 view.
David Burkus has a great story on his blog about the power of studying failure – by looking at the bullet holes in an aircraft.
To learn from a leader’s experiences, Ask Questions. Just because a leader’s approach was successful in their situation, their advice may be hard to apply to your world. Dive into their decision making processes as well. Ask how they decided to take the path they took in their particular situation to become successful in it.
A successful leader probably doesn’t realize all the good things they did, just the more obvious or those about which they are most proud. The more questions you can ask about situations where they were successful, and the more you can get them talking, the more knowledge you can glean beyond the things they would tell you if they only summarized their lessons.
These suggestions assume that you can have a one-on-one conversation with these leaders. That is the environment where the best lessons are learned. Because most of us cannot call Bill Gates and make a lunch date, you need to think of the leaders you know and ask for a bit of their time. If you are prepared with intelligent questions, that you send them prior to the meeting, many leaders will be happy to share their insights and wisdom.
What insights have you learned from your failures?