Failing Forward: How to Mess Up The Right Way as a Leader

Fact: 100% of leaders mess up.

Even the most seasoned, exemplary influencer still says and does things that fall short of perfect.

As a Christ-quoting leader in ministry, I don’t take my trip-ups lightly; in fact, I tend to feel embarrassed, discouraged, and down on myself when I realize I haven’t been practicing what I preach in some area. But I’m learning that messing up can actually give me helpful feedback and spur my leadership skills.

So, since we’re all in this boat together, let’s talk about how we can make the most of our failures.* Here are three tips for turning our common failures into catalysts for growth:

1. Don’t Try To Hide Your Flaws

Inspire openness, humility and honesty on your team by demonstrating it. Share your story with the people who look to you. Instead of trying to hide your growth process, consider asking for input and kind evaluation from people around you. They will often feel more connected to you if you lead this way.

Practice saying this: “Can you help me learn from what went wrong?” And if you can ever find anything to apologize for at all, do it.

As leaders, we can sometimes start to fear that people will lose respect for us if we admit our flaws. But most of the time, the opposite is going to be true: sharing that you’re working on the things they probably can see anyway will raise morale on your team and their earn trust and loyalty.

2. Take Notes

Every time something doesn’t work out the way you thought it would in your ministry or leadership, seize the opportunity to take notes. I’m talking about literally listing out all of the valuable information the mistake has given you, and then apply that knowledge to your next attempt.

For instance, if you held an event and it flopped, list out

  • what marketing was effective and what wasn’t…
  • who engage with and appreciated, and who didn’t…
  • what about the name, location, date, or setting of it could have derailed it.

Or maybe a conversation with a volunteer didn’t go well. Note what was said, where it went bad, and in what ways you were on different pages.

Every mistake, failure, and disappointment is a database. If we ignore them, we risk making similar mistakes again and again, but if we take note, they can become blessings. Failures are lessons that propel us forward.

3. Get Back In The Game

Brandon Cox, editor of, says,

“Real success stories are never built out of an unbroken chain of successes. They’re pieced together with wins and losses, tough seasons, temporary setbacks, and half-dead dreams. Successful leaders push through. They keep going. They trust one more time.”

Don’t let the enemy discourage you after you mess up. Remember you’re in good company, and that you’re doing all this for a God Who purposefully forgets our sins and sees us as complete in Him—a God Who gets PROCESS, and wants you to “get back in the game.”

It says in Romans that when He gives us gifts and callings, they’re irrevocable. So, some silly mistake isn’t going to mess up His plans. Keep your eyes on the Prize and move forward. It’s what every successful leader does.

FOR DISCUSSION: Let me know what you think in the comment section below. What are some of the ways you make the most of failures?

*Note: Just to clarify, this blog is more about leadership hiccups and the innocent (but immature) decisions we all make as growing leaders. If you’re searching for help on what would be considered a bigger mess-up as a leader—a secret sin habit or a continual major struggle that is hindering your influence—you’ll want to talk with some trusted friends and wise mentors about getting help, and possibly taking a break.

There may very well be a time when God uses you in huge ways to disciple many. But He cares more about the condition of your heart than your outside actions, so focus on addressing that first. Also, check out the amazing book The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee.

Andrea Hamilton Binley is the worship director at Inland Hills Church and singer/songwriter at Follow her on Twitter @AndreaHamilton. 

Guest Writer