Lessons in Failure

Dear Christian Radio,

We don’t talk about failure much, do we? But here’s a recommendation for you – read more about failure than you do about success. Yes, there are actual books about failure. Better yet, read stories of failure. Why? You’ll become a better leader.

Failure and perseverance…they mean you’re learning. Thomas Edison is noted as having said:

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” 

Just because you have one quarter of bad numbers doesn’t mean you’re done. It means you’ve found what isn’t working and now can figure out what actually does.

There are many stories of failure already in print.  However, I recommend you start with these:

  • Being Nixon: A Man Divided (Evan Thomas) – One could say that Nixon’s personal mission statement was to unleash revenge on his enemies. It eventually became the source of his downfall.
  • Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson) – Jobs was so focused on the bark and leaves of each tree that he couldn’t see the forest. It cost him his job at Apple. Sometimes it takes multiple failures before you learn a lesson…Jobs did just that at Next.


Every leader fails; however, by reading about the failure of other leaders you may be able to avoid some of the bigger failures in your own leadership journey.

Why do I read those books? Because I believe that radio has co-opted an attitude of complacency that shrugs at the idea of innovation.  Blackberry’s story inspires me to lead a team that can create the future of radio. Just like Edison, even if we fail a thousand times, we keep experimenting until we strike success.

I also have a heart that at times is full of anger and resentment. Nixon’s shadow reminds me to let go of petty arguments and never allow bitterness to be the determining factor in decisions. Equally, I need Steve Jobs in my head to be reminded that it isn’t just about numbers and details, but the overarching vision that gives an organization its soul.

Starbucks proves to me that we can reinvent ourselves. Coffee is just a product one can buy anywhere, much like the music on our stations. But it’s the experience of Starbucks that keeps bringing customers back, a lesson I try to drive deeper and deeper into the culture of Positive Alternative Radio.

In conclusion, I offer this most important nugget as it pertains to leadership—don’t cover up your failures. Own them publicly with your team; after all, they are the ones who most often experience the successes and failures of your decisions. Embrace your humanness and march forward.  You’ll be a better leader and they’ll be a better team.

Dear Christian Radio…

  1. Never give up. No matter how many times you stumble, keep going.
  2. Learn from the failures of others. You’ll reduce your chances of making the same mistakes.
  3. Be authentic with your team. Don’t hide your failures. Discuss them with your team and share what lessons can be learned.


Remember…easy never changed the world.


Brian Sanders
Executive Vice President
Positive Alternative Radio

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