I just couldn’t do it, there were still three press-ups to do in the last set and hard as I tried my arms just wobbled and I collapsed on the gym floor, extremely disappointed. “Fantastic” said Duncan “you’ve worked to the point of failure today, that’s great.” My coach, had just reframed failure for me, it’s generally not something I think of as fantastic. It also got me thinking, what would ‘leading to the point of failure’ in an organisation look like and could it occasionally be a good thing? The exercise example means that next week with the right rest I will be stronger and better placed to complete the last set (or so I hope). However, I have never set out to push myself to the leadership point of failure. I’ve had many management and leadership failures which are always painful. Although, with the right reflection they have provided some of the best learning in my career. Last week I heard a lot of talk from executives in the private and public sector about how we need to use failure as learning and not be afraid to experiment, take risks and learn. Easy to talk about, but extraordinarily difficult in practice. In the public sector I’m not sure how you square this need to experiment and try new things with the press and public scrutiny that can lead to potential failure landing you on the front-page of a national newspaper. In the private sector there is less public scrutiny which does make it easier to take risks and experiment. Perhaps the current financial crisis is evidence of leadership – to the point of failure. Much like me, the system collapsed or would have without intervention. Hopefully lessons are learnt and performance over time improves, but again this was not a deliberate strategy to improve performance. Is there a role for learning to create leadership development opportunities where failure, although not looked for is accepted and used in a positive way. Have you got any positive examples of leadership – pushed to the point of failure in order to improve future performance. How did you manage the risk, reward and potential failure and assess the outcomes and impact? In the meantime, back to the press-ups 1, 2, 3…..