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  • Writer's pictureS.A.G.E. Vision

Failure and Leadership

From our vantage point, failures have informed the manner in which we unlock potential to pursue opportunities for growth. While we take pride in successes attained, it has been through failure that we have been able to evaluate and recalibrate in order to facilitate and sustain the elements of success. We would contend the same remains true with ethical failures, as they create a space in which to evaluate values by forcing an examination of blindspots. While we see the importance of highlighting success, and even celebrating those moments of ethical clarity, we do believe leadership strategies must reframe how failure is viewed. Realigning in this area addresses the motivated and indirect blindness that Bazerman and Tenbrunsel (2011) suggest obscure lapses in ethical judgement. In general, I would concur with Syed's (2015) perspective that most leaders view failure from a negative lens and rarely engage it on a systematic/regular basis. As such, when ethical failures are brought to light, they are opportunities for reactive finger pointing as a means to ascribe fault, as opposed to being mechanisms for becoming increasingly proactive.

In our capacity we have embraced and remained true to the craft of slowing down in order to infuse an introspective approach within our craft. Whether engaged in a significant ethical dilemma or merely contemplating the next step within a learning opportunity, Rushton’s (2009) suggestion of a pause allows the integrative thinking necessary for new ideas to emerge. We credit this approach to the success our learners have attained, as they have shifted their mindsets to incorporate the powerful art of introspective thought. In doing so, these learners begin to understand that it is not about the quantity of material addressed, but the quality of the experience, and the opportunities it provides. However, in an academic setting, such an approach is antithetical to the scope and sequence demands within the space of a 180 day academic calendar. Yet, when an educator acknowledges the scope of their charge, values inherently shift—where the needs of the learner become paramount, and arbitrary timelines are no longer the guide. Unfortunately, for many, spending time in the gray takes effort they are unwilling to exert; it is simply easier to follow an institutionally embedded practice. As facilitators that believe in the power of the pause, this willful ignorance is frustrating to observe. However, shifting the consciousness of a collective takes time. Perhaps the frequency in which individuals are exposed, through the art of listening, will lead to the expansive wisdom that comes from awareness.


Bazerman, M.K. & Tenbrunsel, A.E. (2011). Ethical breakdowns: Good people often let bad things happen. Why? Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 58-65.

Syed, M. (2015). Black box thinking: Why most people never learn from their mistakes-but some do. New York, New York: Penguin Random House.

Rushton CH. (2009). Ethical discernment and action: The art of pause. AACN Adv Crit Care. 20(1),108-11.

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