Epic Fail!

One of the ways that we learn leadership is by watching others lead. In class, we often look at leadership examples from business, politics, education, and the like to see how they handled difficult situations or unique opportunities. For instance, this semester, my students are reviewing the cases from Michael Useem’s The Leadership Moment as part of our experience together.

There is an always a bit of danger in looking to any human example, because they are…well…


oopsAnd as members of the human race, we fail. And my students are highly aware of the failures of leaders. Martha Stewart, Lance Armstrong, and Ken Lay are all household names, not because of their leadership successes, but because of their failures.

As Christians, we recognize that some failures in leadership are due to willful sinfulness. This week in class, we’ve been grappling with the difficulties of leading morally and ethically in today’s world. When leaders are faced with divided loyalties, competing values, and multiple stakeholders, leading an organization with ethics and integrity is a complex and challenging prospect.

Of course, some of our failures as leaders aren’t willful, they are quite simply mistakes. As humans we have a limited point of view, limited resources, and limited information. With all those limitations, we are bound to fail from time to time.

And maybe failure’s not all bad. In fact, some have attributed success to the willingness to risk and to fail, especially if we learn from failure.

I think there’s some truth in that idea. When we are never allowed to fail or never risk enough to fail, it’s difficult to ever learn something new. And while as leaders we have to weigh our responsibilities to the various stakeholders involved (ah, those challenges of ethical leadership again), perhaps it is sometimes irresponsible to always avoid risk that might involve failure.

At the very least, we as leaders ought to put into place some sort of practice that allows us to learn from those inevitable failures.

I’ve made it our practice on campus to ask every guest speaker at our leadership events to identify what practices they’ve put in place to help them turn those epic failures into learning opportunities rather than roadblocks. These are some of the things they’ve said:

  • I ask “What do I learn from this?” or “God, who do you want me to become from this?”
  • I keep a journal that helps me keep track of the lessons learned along the way.
  • I make reflective, prayerful evaluation a part of our ongoing process – when we have apparent success and apparent failures.

I’d love to add to our list of best practices in learning from failure. Do you have practices in place that help you turn failures into learning opportunities?


What’s more super than the super Super Bowl?

Imagine for a moment…

that God decided to tell us 2-3 months in advance when Jesus is coming back! (Wow!) The TV networks and social media would have plenty of time to prepare for this spectacular, blessed EVENT to end all time! All the advertisers would have a chance to buy time across all forms of mass media and to create a dithering blitz of promotional flash and dash likely to make us all go blind. (Cue Music Here: “Thus Sprach Zarathustra,” Full Volume.) The repetitive and ever-intensifying build-up of frenzied sound and dazzling visual imagery leading up to the VERY MOMENT of the EVENT– the KICKOFF OF ETERNITYwould likely be unequaled in human history!!

Or… would it?

Photo Credit: TwentyFourZero via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: TwentyFourZero via Compfight cc

The NFL Super Bowl has been called the biggest media EVENT in the world, and every year both the NFL and the media strive to make the latest EVENT demonstratively more spectacular than the previous year. Everyone and everything associated with the EVENT, even the slightest social quicquidlibet skirting along its periphery, is BLOWN UP into caricatured, Macy’s helium balloon-sized, looming cumulonimbus celebrity extraordinaires.


Photo Credit: Jakob E via Compfight cc

But what would such an EVENT be without all the media hype?

Mass Communication research shows that the “media spectacle,” or the EVENT that media built, is actually ideologically constructed and refied through the very media mechanism that channels it. In other words, it is the MEDIATED “EVENT” which becomes larger than life. The reality of whatever a football finale might be sans press will never be known. Sure, fans would show up… and cheer. Refreshments, souvenirs, and entertainment would be had by all.

Within the agenda-setting paradigm we find the more narrowly-defined concept of brand salience. From issue salience to image salience, media audiences are bombarded with reinforcement messages and subconcious triggers to keep a narrow range of topics and brand names foremost in our minds. This comes in handy for marketers who can successfully get us to take mental shortcuts when making purchases by choosing from concepts and name brands that are already prominent in our active memory. It’s convenient–and all too easy–for the consumer. It’s perniciously satifying to the marketers’ bottom line.

What’s the takeaway for mass communication students?

Before we can answer (or at least surmise) whether our Lord’s return would warrant as much publicity and TV time as a Broncos/Seahawks matchup, we have to understand the intentionality of the media in re-creating every EVENT as their own reality. They never simply provide coverage and analysis, regardless of how potentially large any EVENT might be (on its own), or how NEWSWORTHY any story might seem, prior to its being reported. I try to help my students appreciate that nothing in media is unintentional. Media do NOT simply provide us with a window to the world where the bizarre and barbaric compete for our attention.

Media ARE the EVENT.

Students typically are blissfully unaware that media do indeed wield this much influence on what they see. They are usually nonchalant (at least at first) to learn that because the media painstakingly construct every viewpoint of the EVENT, what they show us directly affects how we think about it. Media are not only our viewfinder and lens. They build the stage and invite the players. They provide the motivation, rules for play, and the consequences for winning and losing, all of which they then report

as if it all just sort of happened.

They also put us in exactly the right position to see what is taking place so we won’t think to change perspectives 0r become uncomfortable. Media is the show producer, the talent, and even the audience (through us). Thus, because media could not control, direct, and provide us with a meticulously forced perspective of The Second Coming, all the while using promiscuous models and over-the-top promotional tactics to inappropriately profit from this one gigantic final EVENT of Creation, then the answer to my first question is


Did you get it right?

Dr. Darrell Roe (Ph.D., UGA, 1998) is an Assoc. Prof. of Mass Communication at ETBU. His specialty is analyzing the content of visual media and its effects on audiences.