Why Successful Leaders Often Fail Before Succeeding


As Revitalization Partners celebrates twenty years of helping hundreds of companies and their CEOs overcome significant business challenges, we thought it would be appropriate to reflect on our experience helping businesses in distress.

More often than not, failing businesses are in this situation as a result of CEOs who do not have the experience to execute a sustainable business strategy, who repeatedly make critical errors in judgment, or who are incompetent and should not have been put in the position to begin with.

The consequences of these mistakes not only have a significant negative impact on the CEO’s career but also impact its employees, customers, and its vendors. While in some cases the business fails, in many other situations, the CEO is fired and replaced by someone with more experience who can right the ship and return it to profitability.

The key question most of these CEOs ask us is,
“What could I have done differently?”



In many instances, when a CEO fails, they are looked upon as weak, incompetent, or just way out of their league. While it’s common to point out the negative aspects of why a CEO has failed, from a broader perspective, it’s important to view a failure as a learning experience that has the potential to provide a path to success.

Individuals should not necessarily view their failure as a character trait.

They could experience failure once, or many times, however, those experiences do not make one a complete failure, in fact they should be viewed as only a temporary setback.

The key variable is what does one learn from failing? In fact, one of the key lessons is that great successes can come from great failures.

When a CEO fails in their effort to successfully lead and operate a company, regardless of the size, they typically spend time self-reflecting and attempting to understand how they could have done things differently to produce a better outcome.

This time for reflection can also be useful to reevaluate their strengths and weaknesses and to work on gaining experience in areas that need improvement.



There are many examples of successful individuals who have failed miserably before achieving tremendous success. For example, Walt Disney failed early in his business career when his former newspaper editor told him that he lacked imagination and had no good ideals.

Undeterred, Walt went on to create an international business and became a cultural icon with a business that bears his name. Disney’s take on failure was:

“I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young … because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you.  Because of it, I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”  – Walt Disney



JK Rowling, the famous author and successful entrepreneur, was on welfare and a single mother when a lot of publishers rejected her Harry Potter novel.

She is now one of the richest women in the world, and reflects on her early failures, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Handling professional failure takes effort, acceptance and action. Learning from one’s mistakes and failures requires a change in mindset and attitude.



Some of the key takeaways of viewing failure differently and turning failure into future success involve a number of shifts in thinking.

For example, thinking of failure as a tool.

Viewing failure as an opportunity to innovate rather than a deterrent to success can help one accept and use failure to their advantage.

One should also view failing differently than failure.

Failing is the act of trying something you learn that doesn’t work and you can try again, with a different approach and achieve success.

Failure on the other hand is giving up and not continuing to try.

Another important change is to redefine what success means. Knowing what you want to achieve and how one measures success can help determine one’s outlook on what defines failure and how to move past it.

Revitalization Partners specializes in improving the operational and financial results of companies and providing hands-on expertise in virtually every circumstance, with a focus on small and mid-market organizations. Whether your requirement is Interim Management, a Business Assessment, Revitalization and Re-engineering, a State Receivership or Bankruptcy Support, we focus on giving you the best resolution in the fastest time with the highest possible return.

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Over the years, through our many assignments, the Principals of Revitalization Partners frequently said to ourselves: “One day, we should write a book about our work and how we can help companies through our experiences.” This is that book and we hope that you find words of value to you and your business.

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