The Power of Failure

Failure is Success in Progress

“There is a leader in all of us.” Donna Orem’s welcoming remarks as president of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) struck me immediately at last month’s NAIS Annual Conference in Atlanta. And her words to the 3,800-plus educators at the conference have continued to resonate.

As an NAIS corporate supporter and multi-year exhibitor, I’ve always enjoyed hearing from the NAIS president. Orem went on to say, “We need leaders to help our communities breathe and students need space to learn and fail; we need to nurture our students as they grow and fail.”

If you think about it, that’s a powerful philosophy to champion. I’ve heard several heads of schools talk about the rewards of learning from one’s failures. As a society, we are hyper-focused on academic achievement, standardized test scores and instilling success in students at a young age. While these are all important, are we really pushing today’s young minds to learn by failing? Are we allowing them to fail at all?

From Albert Einstein to the Wright brothers, failure provided an important foundation to the successes they later achieved. Without failure and learning how to adjust and make changes, they might never have been able to transform our world in the ways that they did.

Another inspiring speaker at the NAIS conference was Adam Grant, the highly recognized University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business professor and best-selling author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success; Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World; and Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. He remarked that “education is about teaching values in our classrooms and communities.” Values play a critical role in leadership development, and Grant is a strong advocate for providing that foundation.

As leaders, our values define what we believe in and feel passionate about. They shape who we are and who we can be. Teaching our students to live and lead with their values is one of the greatest lessons independent schools provide.

What can we learn from Orem and Grant’s advice about leadership and education and how it should influence the values that are being taught in independent schools? We need to provide today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders with the foundation that one can learn from one’s failures.

Effective leaders have the unique ability to admit failure, pivot away from it and create stronger and better outcomes. Perhaps doing it the wrong way the first time proves to be the right way to success.

Jonathan Oleisky is founder and president of Kalix Marketing.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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