The Power of Failure to Promote Humility

February 12, 2017

Categories: Humility,Leadership

Do you remember seeing the movie Titanic in theaters? It was an epic tragedy that still engages us today, even though the sinking of the Titanic occurred over 100 years ago.

I bet you haven’t heard of the Olympic, which was the sister ship to the Titanic. Unlike the Titanic, the Olympic had a long career, spanning 24 years from 1911 to 1935. I can’t be sure why the Olympic had a longer career than its sister ship, but perhaps it had something to do with humility.

I have written elsewhere about how the tragedy of the Titanic might have had something to do with a lack of humility. Indeed, prior to the launch of the Titanic, an employee of the White Star Line remarked, “Not even God himself could sink this ship.”

The Olympic had a different history. On one of her early voyages, the Olympic collided with another ship, tearing two large holes in her hull. Because of this early failure, the captain and crew of the Olympic had no illusions of infallibility, which may have allowed the Olympic to carry people across the Atlantic for over 20 years.

Recent research on humility and leadership found that a failure early in the leader’s career was associated with higher levels of humility, as well as better leadership ability. There is something about an early failure that allows the leader to view the self as fallible, which improves teachability, willingness to see the self accurately, and appreciation of others’ strengths.

We all try to avoid failure as much as possible. Failure doesn’t feel good, and we each have a need to see ourselves in a positive light. But one benefit of failure is that it might make you a more humble and effective leader.


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