Leadership and innovation aren’t qualities that people
are born with; they’re earned after a lifetime of hard
work and diligence. In the face of overwhelming odds
or critical failures, it’s easy to lose sight of your
aspirations, but the charismatic leaders we admire
throughout history don’t give in to that temptation.
They work to overcome any challenge.
Take inspiration from these seven leaders, who faced
ridicule, rejection, and disaster before earning their
1. Bill Gates’s first company was a failure. Yes, that
Bill Gates, the one worth $76 billion. He wasn’t
always the wildly successful tech genius we’ve all
come to recognize as one of the most innovative and
practical leaders the world has ever seen. Gates and
his business partner, Paul Allen, originally started a
company called “Traf-O-Data,” which featured an
automated way to read and organize data pulled from
traffic tapes. The company was a complete failure,
and the product didn’t work the way it was intended.
Still, Gates credits his first business as being
invaluable as a learning experience. Failure is
something common and inevitable, but learning from
failure is what leads to success . Gates is certainly
not alone in the entrepreneurial world–in fact, most
successful entrepreneurs, especially in the tech sector,
were only able to reach those heights after years of
struggle and countless failed experiments.
2. Richard Branson was a terrible student (and still
suffers from dyslexia). Branson, also on the short list
of richest people in the world, is still making waves as
an innovator with various new enterprises extending
from his core Virgin Records business. But if test
scores and grades were a truer indicator of future
success, Branson never would have been able to
accomplish such greatness. Branson was, and is,
dyslexic, a learning disability at least partially
responsible for his terrible standardized test scores
and below-average grades. Despite those childhood
setbacks, Branson fought for his own ideas and is
currently overseeing one of the biggest companies on
Branson is a perfect example of how limitations
should never hold you back. Whether those limitations
exist in your physical capabilities, resource access, or
somewhere else, there is virtually no obstacle that
cannot be overcome. History is full of leaders who
overcame objective limitations to change the world.
3. Albert Einstein was rejected from college. Einstein
is currently known as the “father of modern physics.”
That’s a pretty big title for someone who couldn’t get
into college right away. Einstein was no child prodigy;
his grades were poor, his focus in the classroom was
sporadic, and when he first tried to get into college,
he failed the entrance exam. Nevertheless, Einstein
eventually graduated and developed some of the most
important scientific theories of the modern world,
which still form the fundamental basis for modern
physics. Even if you aren’t familiar with the scientific
value of his work, you know his name–it’s
synonymous with scientific intelligence.
For most people, getting rejected from college would
seem like the end of the road. An optimistic handful
might think that a career in science is still possible.
But Einstein blew those assumptions away and
became not just a great scientist, but one of the
greatest scientists that ever lived. Remember that the
next time you’re faced with rejection.
4. James Dyson tried and failed 5,127 times. Thomas
Edison is often named as an example of why failure
shouldn’t stop you from trying; different estimates
purport that he built 100 to 1,000 light bulbs before
he found one that worked. But James Dyson is a
modern-day Edison who experimented even more
before eventually finding success. For 15 years,
James Dyson tried–and failed–to build a better
vacuum cleaner, scrapping a reported 5,127
prototypes in total. But still, Dyson insisted that each
prototype brought him one step closer to perfection,
and today he’s a billionaire.
When you buy a stunning new product, you don’t get
to see the countless ugly, unfinished versions that
came before it. No matter how hard you work at your
first draft, it’s probably going to end up looking
terrible, so don’t get discouraged. Keep working at it,
and eventually, even if it takes you 5,000 tries, you’ll
get something great.
5. Steve Jobs was kicked out of his own company.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple and turned the
company into a sensational powerhouse, he was
hailed as a genius (and he pocketed billions). But
that level of success had eluded Jobs for decades.
After starting Apple with partner Steve Wozniak, Jobs
was booted out of the company after too many failed
projects. Resentful but determined, Jobs started a
new company, NeXT, whose hardware failed
catastrophically. Fortunately, the software division
was successful, and Apple’s acquisition of that
division put Jobs back in charge. The rest is history.
Steve Jobs is lasting evidence that you should never
count somebody out (even yourself). Instead of
wallowing in self-defeat, he poured his efforts into
new enterprises, and constantly refined his visions
until he earned his way back to the top of Apple.
Even if someone pushes you back, you have to keep
6. Oprah Winfrey overcame a tragic past. After
experiencing years of abuse from family members and
friends, Winfrey ran away from home and bore a child
at age 14 who died shortly after birth. Despite a
childhood and early adolescence riddled with tragedy
and adversity, Winfrey became an honors student in
high school and earned a full college scholarship.
Today, she’s instantly recognizable as one of the
most successful television personalities and
entrepreneurs in the world, with a net worth in the
The past is the past, and it shouldn’t stop anybody
from doing what they want to do. Winfrey could have
easily resigned to be content with a normal life after
everything that happened to her, but instead she kept
pushing for greatness.
7. Kris Carr turned cancer into an opportunity.Kris Carr isn’t as recognizable as some of the other entrepreneurs on this list, but her story is nothing short of inspirational. In 2003, Carr was diagnosed with an incurable, extremely rare form of cancer in her liver and lungs already in Stage IV. Carr fought back by radically altering her lifestyle, writing books, and starting a wellness website that encouraged others to follow suit. Today, Carr’s site kriscarr.com, is followed by more than 40,000 people, and her story has been the subject of multiple documentaries. Carr has lived with cancer for more than 10 years, and is still enjoying success as an entrepreneur with a strong personal brand.
The greatest leaders don’t just move past an obstacle–they find meaning in it, and use it to their advantage. When you face a challenge, you can’t just look at how it’s limiting you; you have to look at how it changes you, and how it could change you for the better.
All leaders eventually face hardship. Great leaders overcome those hardships and improve themselves in the process. Whether you’re a boss, an entrepreneur, a scientist, or a mentor, you have to look at your weakest moments as opportunities rather than limitations. Every obstacle, and every failure, is just another step toward your ultimate destination: success.