And the final excerpts from Bennis’ book On Becoming a Leader that talk about embracing failure illustrate its impact on the human spirit…


“[John Cleese] continued, ‘In organisations where mistakes are not allowed, you get two types of behaviour.  First since mistakes are ‘bad,’ if they’re committed by the people at the top, the feedback arising from those mistakes has to be ignored or selectively reinterpreted, in order that those top people can pretend that no mistake has been made.  So it doesn’t get fixed.  Second, if they’re committed by people lower down in the organisation, mistakes get concealed.”  “The leaders that I talked with are far from believing that mistakes are ‘bad.’  They not only believe in the necessity of mistakes, they see them as virtually synonymous with growth and progress.”


“Sydney Pollack said, ‘When I work with actors, I try to convince them that it’s not possible to make a mistake.  I say the only way they can make a mistake is by trying not to make a mistake, because that’ll create tension and tie them up every time…One spends an awful lot of time in life trying to get insurance beforehand that whatever bit of behaviour is going to happen is at best impressive, but at the very least, acceptable and not foolish.  A really good actor has got to be capable of making an enormous fool out of himself.  Otherwise no original work gets done.’”


“Like Barbara Corday, leaders don’t always see ‘failures’ as mistakes.  ‘My favourite project,’ she said, ‘a TV series called ‘American Dream,’ had a lot of things to say, was executed brilliantly, written and acted well, and produced beautifully.  It was a critical success, but for whatever reason, the public chose not to watch it, and it only lasted for five or six episodes…It’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you make them in good conscience and you’re doing the best you can at that moment…I’m not afraid to make a mistake, and I’m not afraid to say afterward, ‘Boy, that was a mistake.  Let’s try something else.’  I think that wins people over.  Now, I don’t make mistakes purposely to win people over, but when I have one, I admit it.  I can also say, ‘You have a better idea that I have.  Let’s do your idea.’  I don’t second-guess people.  If I hire you to do something, I let you do it.”


“Horace B. Deets, executive director for the American Association of Retired People, was equally emphatic about the need to establish a tolerant culture.  He said, ‘I try to encourage as much openness and contrary views as possible.  It’s important to encourage dissent and embrace error.”