Five Characteristics of High Achieving Failures


Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement. – C. S. Lewis

The story was told in Reader’s Digest about when Jim Burke became the head of new products division at Johnson & Johnson. One of his first projects was the development of a children’s chest rub. The product failed miserably, and Burke expected to be fired.

When he was called in to see the chairman of the board, however, he met a surprising reception. “Are you the one who just cost us all that money?” asked Robert Wood Johnson. “Well, I just want to congratulate you. If you are making mistakes, that means you are taking risks, and we won’t grow unless you take risks.” Some years later, when Burke himself became chairman he continued to spread that word.

Failures and mistakes are an inclusive part of leadership. While no one purposefully sets out to make mistakes or to fail, it is a part of the growing curve. How you handle mistakes in terms of lessons learned and corrections made is what sets you apart from the rest.

But on average, what is your company’s reaction to failures and what is your personal reaction? Is it met with derision and demotion or is it seen as an opportunity for potential success?

In his book, It’s Not About the Coffee, Howard Behar, former President Starbucks International, writes, “One of the things we don’t do enough of at Starbucks that most companies don’t do enough of, is celebrate our failures. Celebration of failures leads you to not give up and to try more things. It certainly leads to more trust. People need to believe that they can make things happen and that they can try things, even if eventually they don’t work out, because you never know when the one thing you’re working on will be the one that will work.” This is the type of environment that breeds success.  Here are five habits of high achieving failures for your consideration.

High achieving failures are empowered

Whatever else can be said about high achieving failures this is one is a given – they are empowered to take risks. Failures may line their road to success but they would not get too far in their efforts without someone believing in them and empowering them to try.

High achieving failures know how to pivot

High achievers understand that failures and setbacks happen. It is but one equation in the formula of success and high achievers understand it.  While others may be thrown off their game when they meet failure, high achievers welcome it because they know they are one step closer to success.

High achieving failures push the boundaries

High achievers learned a long time ago to color outside the lines. The boundaries they push are creative ones and they will find unconventional ways to achieve their goals. Many people misunderstand them and therefore underestimate their abilities because their workspace may not always be tidy. These high achievers are not afraid to take risks because this is where they are most comfortable.

High achieving failures never give up

High achieving failures have an Edison like attitude that is characterized by his statement, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  These high achievers know how to work through short term setbacks to reach their long term goals. They will pivot, they will push boundaries, they will do whatever it takes, but giving up is not an option.

High achieving failures are naturally curious

High achieving failures are not just concerned about ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, and ‘where’, but want to dig deeper to understand ‘how’ and ‘why’; it is just part of their DNA. Their curiosity will lead them to places and to conclusions most people would never consider which is why you need them in your organization.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to high achieving failures such as Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, and many others whose creative genius shaped and developed the world we live in. The key is to never be afraid to fail, always be willing to try because it’s the only way to make progress, and when you get knocked down the game isn’t over – get back up and keep working. The world needs more high achieving failures like you.

What do you say?



©2013 Doug Dickerson


About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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