Failure is a constant companion in a leader’s life.  Sometime’s a welcome companion.  Sometimes not.  For leaders though, it is not a question of if you will fail, but when.  As a result, leaders must learn from failure and utilize its lessons to propel them to future success.

Few leaders have had as much success as Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James.  The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player has won two championships.  But, he has also lost in the finals on four separate occasions.  James understands both success and failure.

In the December 7th edition of Sports Illustrated, the great writer Lee Jenkins profiled James on the eve of his 31st birthday.  After losing to the Golden State Warriors in last year’s finals, James discussed how he is pushing his franchise and teammates to achieve greater results this season.

The following are 28 Ways Great Leaders Handle Failure I gleaned from Jenkins’ article:

  1. Failure Keeps Leaders Awake At Night – Jenkins profile of James begins with him being unable to sleep after a loss to the Detroit Pistons.
  2. Leaders Dismiss Their Own Personnel Accomplishments During Times Of Failure – In the loss to the Pistons, James passed Jerry West to become the NBA’s 19th all-time leading scorer.  When West called to offer his congratulations, James said, “We lost.”
  3. Leaders Must Bring Positive Energy During Times Of Failure, Not Negative Energy – James told his wife Savannah, “I’ll be better when I get back.  I won’t bring this negative energy into the house.”
  4. Leaders Are Smart And Know What Is Needed To Overcome Failure – While sitting in his locker after last year’s Finals loss, James began thinking about what his summer would be like – training, practicing, lifting, early mornings, diet, work and treatment.
  5. Leaders Then Put In The Work Needed To Overcome Failure – James’ daily training regiment during September was 90 minutes of ballhandling and low post work, two hours of strength training, and two hours of shooting practice.  James did three-a-days.
  6. Failure Is Painful To Leaders – James said after the Finals loss, “It was painful.”
  7. Great Leaders Do Everything They Can During Times Of Failure – In the losing effort to the Warriors, James became the first person in Finals history to lead BOTH teams in scoring, rebounding and assists.
  8. Leaders Must Properly Evaluate Times Of Failure – When looking back at the Finals, James said, “I don’t think we were outcoached or outplayed.  I think we were outmatched.”
  9. Failure Makes Many Leaders Angry – While with the Miami Heat, after their loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, James said, “We had a rage.  We weren’t always perfect (in 2012), but we played with rage and we practiced with rage.”
  10. Leaders Are Never Satisfied Until They Overcome Failure – After starting this season 8-3, James said, “All things considered, our record is pretty good, isn’t it?  Well, I don’t like it.  I don’t like it at all.”
  11. Great Leaders Push Their Teammates During Times Of Failure – James is a constantly speaking passionately into his teammates to improve performance.  He refers to this as “competitive emotions.”
  12.  Overcoming Failure Requires A Singular Focus – Cavs general manager David Griffin says, “The most important thing in his life is winning a championship here…He is consumed by it.”  James also added, “I try to remember what I learned from the great Pat Riley: What is the main thing?  Because the main thing has to be the main thing.”
  13. Leaders Need Discipline And Commitment To Overcome Failure – Teammate James Jones noted the approach of the Cavs young players when joining the team last fall, “Great young players but part-time pros.  They’d be locked in for an hour before practice, an hour after practice, but the discipline and commitment weren’t there.”
  14. Leaders Cannot Be Lenient If They Want To Overcome Failure – After noticing the young players were late for treatment, foregoing extra shooting and left the team’s cafeteria in a mess, James said, “Leniency, which was very different from the structure I’d grown accustomed to (in Miami).”
  15. Overcoming Failure Requires Personal Pride – When James missed a practice last season, the players threw their dirty uniforms and gear into the floor rather than a hamper located easily in the middle of the floor, equipment manager Mark Cashman said, “I’ve worked here 15 years and that was the maddest I’ve ever been.”  Regarding dirty uniforms, James once told Cashman as a rookie upon returning neatly folded uniforms, “I didn’t have a lot growing up.  I have to take care of it.”
  16. Leaders Must Step Up And Lead The Way During Times Of Failure – James said, “You can’t do your work at home.  You have to do it here.  You have to show them what it looks like.”
  17. You Must Have Unity To Overcome Failure – Remembering his time with the Heat, James said, “For three years my team was on the same page, the same wavelength.”
  18. You Must Have Trust To Overcome Failure – James continues, “It’s hard to trust people when you’ve never been in the bunker with them.”
  19. Great Leaders Make Significant Personal Investments During Times Of Failure – Griffin says, “He (James) wants to be the best player on the planet and the best leader he can, and that’ what he invests all his time in.”
  20. Great Leaders Must Take Ownership Of Failure – A rival general manager says, “All we want is for our star to take ownership, to be invested in our success.  Being too invested, which I understand is the knock on him (James), seems like an O.K. problem.”
  21. Great People Skills Are Needed During Times Of Failure – Teammate Kevin Love said, “You have to understand people and how to deal with them.  LeBron is incredibly smart.  He knows how to get the best out of us.”  He also added, “One of the first things I told him (this past summer) was, ‘Over the next five years we are going to get to know each other better, and that’s going to make for a better relationship and a better product on the floor.”
  22. Great Leaders Are Great Encouragers During Times Of Failure – James said, “I want him (Love) to believe in himself and understand how important he is to this movement.”
  23. You Cannot Overcome Failure Alone.  Great Leaders Crave Camaraderie During Times Of Failure – As demonstrated by his relationship with Love, head coach David Blatt said of James, “It’s refreshing to come every day and know you’re about the same thing with your best guy.”
  24. Smart Leaders Cannot Sacrifice Personal Relationships For Team Success During Times Of Failure – Griffin adds, “He’s one of them in almost every way.  But when he’s in the heat of competition, there’s no one like him.  He is a very intense human being.  He’s unrelenting.  It’s not acceptable to blow an assignment.  He’ll let you know.  And then he’ll be playing cards with you again on the plane.”
  25. Leaders Must Empower Others During Times Of Failure – Griffin continues, “I think he made guys feel like he was doing this for them.  Now he’s making them feel like he’s doing it with them.  He’s empowering them.  He’s brought a sense of togetherness to it.”
  26. Smart Leaders Pace Themselves During Times Of Failure – James said of the San Antonio Spurs, “The Spurs know how to pace perfection.  I haven’t figured that out yet.”
  27. A Leader Must Have Perspective During Times Of Failure – James said, “The homes I live in, the cars I drive, the schools my kids attend, the movies, the shows, the businesses, it’s all because of basketball.  That’s the main thing.  It always has to be the main thing.”
  28. Great Leaders See Failure As A Gift – Jones noted, “What he’s done has worked.  The atmosphere here is a little tougher, a little more disciplined, a lot more focused, a lot more committed.  These are full-time pros now.  They come in for multiple film sessions, multiple treatment sessions, shoot by themselves.  They’ve watched film.”

What is one thing you learned about handling failure from LeBron James?

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