Everyday leadership: Failure doesn’t destroy leaders

In July of 1991, my brother Jack and I traveled to Hawaii in hopes of viewing a rare total eclipse of the sun. The only thing total about the eclipse for us was the thick cloud cover that obscured it totally. Within thirty minutes of the end of the eclipse, (the eclipse we didn’t get to see) the sun came out with a blinding brilliance.

Jack had plans for the rest of the day so we headed to the entrance of Volcano National Park near the center of the island. We proceeded to the visitor’s center to check out our options. We found that the closest volcano was Kilauea Iki. Kilauea Iki was dormant having last erupted in 1959. A path from the visitor center led to the rim of the volcano. As we viewed the entire volcano, we noticed a trail across the floor. It appeared that people could walk all the way across although we could see no people on the path. We looked around and found a well-traveled path that curved like a deer trail on a steep hill, back and forth.

Finally, we completed our descent into the crater. Behind us was thick vegetation and in front of us was the black steamy face of the volcano. At the edge of the floor, small hand-sized pieces of lava were carefully wrapped with Ti leaves. Ti plants are common in Hawaii and are still used by the natives to cook food. They look somewhat like the leaves of a corn plant. Later, we found that the natives had placed the Ti wrapped pieces of lava during the eclipse to honor the volcano god, Pele.

We continued following the footpath across the rough lava. Periodically, we saw fumars spewing steam out of fissures in the surface. We kept our distance, as the surface could have been unstable near the fumar. It was almost a mile across the floor of the volcano, which took us about a half an hour to travel. We felt a sense of accomplishment as we climbed the rim on the other side and reached the top.

Earlier in the day, we experienced a large disappointment in missing the eclipse. We had flown 9000 miles primarily to see a solar eclipse and had failed. Within two hours of the disappointment, we had a wonderful experience. We both were able to see and experience something exciting about the culture of the local people at an unusual geological event.

Similarly, true leaders are not destroyed by significant failure. I learned that dwelling on disappointments is a waste of time. You may miss the next opportunity to learn or experience something of value. We are in control of our attitude, not the other way around. Leaders who can maintain a positive and insightful outlook, even in the midst of failure and disappointment, are usually the most successful. True leaders are not destroyed by significant failure. They pick themselves up and make a new plan toward a new success.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more visit www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.