7 Ways My Epic Failure Made Me A Better Leader

Remember when we were in high school and your teacher would assign you a group project and everyone would go ‘ughhhh?’

… and then while you’re doing the project, you’re like ‘this project would be so much easier if I didn’t have to deal with the people’?

Now imagine doing that all day, every day… As a career where your success is determined by your ability to lead the group?


Leadership is freaking hard.

My Challenge With Leadership

Personal growth is the craziest thing ever because you usually don’t even know where you’re lacking until you are either called out on it or learn the lesson the hard way….

I learned that I was being a TERRIBLE leader the hard way by being called out on it.

By nature, I have a driver personality. That means I’m driven by results, I don’t need a whole lot of lovin’ to get to work and I’m a loner by nature.

Learning about personality styles has been a game. changer. for me and I highly recommend that you invest some time to learn about them too.

I lead with a task focus but can also get people excited…. My challenge was always KEEPING them motivated.

After a powerful pep talk, my natural tendency is to leave them be and to let them get to work and then to swoop back in for results.

I want to finish whatever we’re working on before we get to the friendly stuff.

Turns out, that crashes and burns every time and I’ve even been called a dictator for it. Ouch.

My parents both have strong driver personalities too, so it never occurred to me that I was being too harsh… That’s just our personalities. Gentle isn’t exactly in our nature.
7 Ways My Epic Failure Made Me A Better Leader


My Epic Leadership Failure

At the risk of sounding like the worst person ever, I had a falling out with our entire leadership board for this very organization in June of 2015 because I wanted to switch directions to focus on self-development (which is what I created the group to be from the beginning) and they wanted to continue doing social events.

It was a NASTY blow out, to the point that some of them won’t talk to me and it almost made me quit running this group.

It was so bad that I actually cried myself to sleep that night (actually kinda embarrassed to share that).

I’ve never been in a leadership position for ego purposes or because I wanted power (even though, looking back, they probably thought I was)… My heart was always in the right place and I genuinely wanted to make a difference, just my approach was ALL. WRONG.

Looking back, I realize that I was definitely dictating instead of empowering and I wasn’t clear about the direction of the organization from the beginning and so everyone had their own ideas of where it should go…. HUGE mistake.

After that blow out, I was literally afraid to step into a leadership role again and started questioning every single thing about myself.

I even almost shut down this group (which at the time was just a Meetup group).

I realized that I couldn’t just give up and that I had to keep pushing forward because my vision was bigger than my fears and if that was a weakness, I had to make it a strength.

It’s something I’ve worked really, really, really, really, really, really hard at over the past two years.

When I say I’ve worked at it really hard, I mean like I’ve read dozens of books on leadership and emotional intelligence, attended workshops and trainings and done HOURS of meditation and self-reflection to get better at it.

Overcoming The Failure

If you were ask our members now if they’d call me a dictator, they’ll tell you otherwise. Here’s what one of our members actually said (I was collecting testimonials for an course I was putting together and this is what she said)…

“You put all of us before you because you’re so selfless — to you, our success is your success. Thank you for being a role model — You are a role model to everyone around you. You do more than chase dreams and achieve them like other people do — you create them and then help others achieve theirs. Thank you for being a leader. Thank you for being a friend and most importantly, thank you for being Alexa. I’m so honored to have met you and be part of your journey and thank you for being part of mine.

This testimonial is one of my proudest accomplishments ever because of how hard I’ve worked to get here.

How, you ask?

I did a TON of homework…

I read endless books on leadership, attended a ton of training and allowed myself to be vulnerable to those that I lead.

What was most effective though, was learning how to have powerful conversations with them that left them feeling empowered, rather than lectured like a child.

I didn’t have to change who I am, I just had to change my approach.

Instead of being a dictator, I needed to show my heart and focus on inspiring and empowering, rather than dictating.

I had to learn that being human and vulnerable was a strength, not a weakness. 

I’ve learned how to delegate without dictating, how to hold people accountable without making them feel bullied and how to be a more inspiring leader by putting them first.

Now don’t get me wrong… Our members will definitely still tell you that I’m a little crazy because of how detailed I am but the dictator side of me has been tamed.

It’s something I still work on now and am confident that I’ve definitely made progress.

So, here’s what I have learned…

1. Your Number One Goal Is To Help Them Reach Their Individual Goals

So first things first, if people are going to put their trust in you as their leader, you have a responsibility to invest in them and their self-development

… and when you can help other people reach their goals, you’ll hit yours faster too.

That means that when you take someone under your wing, you need to spend time getting to know them and asking powerful questions to learn what drives them and what’s important to them.

When you lead, spend time getting know to what's important to your people. Click To Tweet

There’s a method of hiring people that starts with a conversation about goals.

Before you ever even talk about the position, get to know the person first. Learn about their past jobs, what their highs were, what their lows were, what they’ve learned.

When you invest time into them to make sure that you know them, they’ll invest more into you too and you’ll be able to lead them more effectively… Not to mention, you’ll be able to put them into opportunities that match their goals.

You’re not a great leader until you’ve created another leader who’s created another leader… so the more you can build them up to reach their goals, the more they’ll help you reach yours.

2. Having a One On One Relationship Will Fix Almost Anything

Your relationship with people is like an ATM.

If you’re constantly depositing into the bank (the relationship), if you make a withdrawal, it’s not a big deal… but if you don’t make those deposits and there’s no money in the bank, you’re going to be in big trouble.

If you're constantly depositing into your relationship bank, withdrawals aren't as big of a deal. Click To Tweet

The moral of the story here is that if you’re constantly pouring into people, if you say or do something that pisses them off or hurts them, they’re more likely to let you off the hook than if you hadn’t invested in your relationship with them.

So first things first, take the time to pour into your people. I don’t just mean by giving them compliments… but build them up.

Take the time to actually listen to them without getting distracted, show how much you appreciate them and make sure they know that you care… and every person needs to be cared for differently, which is why it’s so important to understand personality styles.

I learned about personality styles in college but I didn’t really study them until I started selling real estate. Because of my failures, I made it my personal mission to master the DISC personality profile so that I could better understand and relate to other people.

The more that I learn about the DISC, the more that I can accept people for who they are without getting frustrated with them and that has been incredibly helpful.

Last but DEFINITELY not least, make sure that you praise in public and critique in private.

If you’re leading a team, you need to be having one on one sessions with your team members. Even though it’s more efficient to only have group meetings, your one on one meetings will be infinitely more effective and you’ll be able to deepen your relationship with your team members which ultimately results in better performance… which leads me to #3.

3. You’re A Coach Above All Else.

First off, one of my biggest misconceptions about leadership is that I had to have all of the answers. Turns out, great leaders don’t have all the answers… They have all the great questions.

Your job as a leader is to empower your people to find the answers for themselves… Even if the training process takes longer than you’d like.

Think about it this way… If your team comes running to you for every little answer, they’re going to always run to you for an answer.

When you empower them to find the answer for themselves, you liberate them and they learn how to swim on their own without your help.

As I’m writing this post, I’m reading a book called The Coaching Habitwhich is part of the reason I decided to write this post in the first place… I’m only about halfway through it but I highly recommend it. It’s all about how to lead more effectively by asking better questions.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the book so far has been to stop asking loaded questions that are really an answer within the question. Rather than “have you thought about…?” or “have you tried…?”, here are some of my favorite questions that I’ve been asking more often are…

“What have you tried so far?”

“What are your options?”

“How do you feel about that?”

“What’s important to you about that”

“What’s the real issue here?”

“… and what else?”

Man oh man… My whole world changed almost instantly when I stopped talking so much and started asking more questions.

My whole world changed when I stopped talking so much and started asking more questions. Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, questions are infinitely more powerful than statements — I just had to learn that the hard way.

At the end of the day, questions are infinitely more powerful than statements. Click To Tweet

All of these questions (and more) are laid out in the leadership conversation guide to help you make sure that you’re really building your people up and helping them get clarity on their goals and challenges.

4. Vulnerability Is POWERFUL.

My mom was a single mom who did VERY well for herself.

She’s one of those crazy women that could do 25 things at once… Make dinner, run a conference call, get me to gymnastics and negotiate a multimillion dollar deal… All at the same time.

This is literally her:

She LOVES her children to the end of the universe and back.

However, when you grow up with supermom, you start to idolize strong, independent and overly capable. It toughens you up a little bit because you realize if she can take over the world in one day, whatever you’re upset over can’t be that big of a deal.

Between my mom and my Romanian gymnastics coaches who believed in pushing you beyond your limits, vulnerable and gentle just weren’t a thing in my world.

I started to realize that by trying to be superwoman, my demeanor seemed unapproachable, heartless and cold… Even though that’s not the case at all… So I stopped trying to be a robot and stopped trying to be superwoman. I allowed myself the freedom to make mistakes…

The more that I opened up to become vulnerable with those that I lead, the more they were willing to step up, share and contribute.

So my best advice here is… don’t try to be a super hero or robot. Have feelings and show them. Let them know when you’re struggling with something, let them know when you’re excited and show them that you’re human.

They’ll love you for it.

Don't be a robot. Have feelings and show your team that you're human. Click To Tweet

6. Show Your Gratitude Until It’s Acknowledged.

Let me ask you… How do you feel when you go out of your way for someone and all you get is a “cool, thanks”?

You probably feel like you’re never going to do anything for that person again.

7 Ways My Epic Failure Made Me A Better Leader

… But what happens when you do someone a favor that’s not even that big of a deal and they go way out of their way to show you how much you’re appreciated for it?

You’re like ‘man… I’m going to do favors for you more often.’

As a matter of fact, I just thought about a conversation I recently had with one of our members… When I was working on putting this site together, I needed help with a bunch of little stuff and she’s a web designer.

So I was being annoying and asking her for help to fix those issues… Her response?

“You make me feel so appreciated I love it! I will always help you just for the self esteem boost”

How cool is that? What if you had more relationships where people were excited to help you? All you have to do is show them how much you appreciate them and don’t stop thanking them until they actually acknowledge it.

7. Don’t Take Back The Job That They Owned.

When you’re working on projects, let your team be part of the brainstorming process and let them own the parts they want to take responsibility for.

7 Ways My Epic Failure Made Me A Better Leader

When they own it, it’s their baby and they will be a million times more excited to do it than when the big, bad boss gives them homework.

When they’ve owned the project or task, your job isn’t supposed to take it back if they’re falling behind, it’s to hold them accountable.

If you are constantly taking back their tasks and projects, you might think that you’re making it easier on them when you’re treating them like children in timeout. They’ll slack off until you take the project back which leaves you overwhelmed and frustrated, and it leaves them disengaged and annoyed.

I went to a workshop last year that talked about the six accountability questions and it has completely changed my relationships. Rather than “have you done __ yet? Why not?”, the accountability questions work magic.

Here you go:

“What was your goal?”

“How did you do?”

“How do you feel about that?”

“Based on how you did, what is your goal now?”

“Is there anything that might keep you from doing that?”

“If you needed training or support to do this, what might it be?”

When you ask these questions during your accountability sessions, it allows them to take ownership of their answers and of the task or project.

By focusing on the fact that it’s their goal, they’re a million times more likely to step up to the plate to get it done because they own it.

You are there as a resource, not a parent or kindergarten teacher.

In closing, my epic failure of leadership has made me a better person, brought me more balance and pushed me to grow more than I ever could’ve imagined.

What doesn’t kill you does make you stronger, but I still hope you never have to have the same experience that I did.

Let me know…

During 2015, I had a falling out with my ENTIRE leadership team. This article outlines the 6 things that my epic failure taught me about being a great leader.
During 2015, I had a falling out with my ENTIRE leadership team. This article outlines the 6 things that my epic failure taught me about being a great leader.
During 2015, I had a falling out with my ENTIRE leadership team. This article outlines the 6 things that my epic failure taught me about being a great leader.
During 2015, I had a falling out with my ENTIRE leadership team. This article outlines the 6 things that my epic failure taught me about being a great leader.
During 2015, I had a falling out with my ENTIRE leadership team. This article outlines the 6 things that my epic failure taught me about being a great leader.
During 2015, I had a falling out with my ENTIRE leadership team. This article outlines the 6 things that my epic failure taught me about being a great leader.

Tell me about what you think makes a great leader in the comments below.