Good leaders learn from their successes and failures

My first semester in college was more difficult than I expected. My high score on the ACT college entrance test placed me in several advanced courses, including an honors freshman English class.

My roommate, Keith, and I participated in frequent socialization events on and off campus. So, before I knew it, the semester was over and a research paper was due in my English class along with final exams in all of my other classes.

I studied for and completed my final exams and turned my attention to the research paper. I had never written such a paper in high school and struggled for a number of hours, putting together my best efforts into some semblance of a research paper. I showed my work to Keith and he laughed out loud. My heart sunk as he explained why my paper just wouldn’t do.

Being the worldly man that he was, Keith had a ready solution. He knew a girl who knew a girl who could sell me a research paper. I was shocked at his suggestion to cheat. Keith had a convincing rationalization and I swayed back and forth with this difficult decision. I looked at my inadequate paper and realized the deadline about 24 hours away at 3 p.m.

Finally, I agreed to walk to the dorm of the girl who dealt in illicit research papers. We arrived at the lobby of the dorm and called the girl. She quickly appeared and offered her product.

I took the paper in hand and looked at the cover. The title, “Mental Illness” startled me. The topic I had given my professor at the beginning of the semester was Christianity. I couldn’t think of any line of reasoning I could use to convince my professor to allow me to drastically change my subject matter. I handed the paper back to the young lady with my thanks and dejectedly walked back to our room.

I was now desperate. The clock was ticking down, 22 more hours. I pulled out a stack of note cards where I had jotted a quote or two. I arranged the cards in what I thought was a logical order and began writing something about each of them. I reread everything and reordered the cards and the pieces I wrote. It was three o’clock in the morning and I had my content. I proceeded to borrow a typewriter and begin the arduous task of typing it all up. Fifteen minutes before my deadline, I stapled my paper together and ran to the classroom. The paper, such as it was, arrived on time in the wire basket on the professor’s desk.

This was one of those teachable moments where a series of events resulted in a lifelong lesson. Instead of the shame of handing in someone else’s paper, I felt the satisfaction that I invented a way to solve an important problem.

I was never ashamed of the C I received in that class. It gave me confidence I could solve other problems in life even though at the time they each seem overwhelming. Good leaders are inventors who help teams create successful solutions.

They don’t take the easy way out, but they do learn from their successes and failures.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership usually appears each Wednesday on the Business page.