To wrap up this series on failure, we want to spend some time looking at the final reason that you may fail, which is that expectations and boundaries have not been clearly communicated. 


85% of the time, failure occurs because of structure. The systems that have been built within our organization meant to funnel us towards our There are ineffective and we fail. This is the kind of failure we have been focusing on in the series thus far. This is failure we should celebrate, because we can learn and adjust our structures to be more effective at funneling us toward our There. A mantra we have at the Crossroad is “structure demands behavior.” In other words, if you want the behavior to change, you have to change the structure. 

10% of the time, failure occurs because of leadership; when there is a lack of clarity and a failure to communicate expectations clearly. 

Only 5% of the time is the failure due to you, or the person who caused the miss. We can remember these statistics with the acronym SLY, for Structure-Leadership-You. In a Don’t-Make-A-Mistake culture, blame is automatically placed on You before examining Structure and Leadership. But, as a servant leader, you should first look at whether or not the Structure is demanding the behavior you want, and then look to see if your expectations have been clearly communicated. 

Effective Communication 

An image describing the relationship between the sender and receiver and some of the barriers they can face.

There are four parts to communication: 

The Sender

The sender is the person with the message. They have to know exactly what they want to say and then pick the best medium by which to communicate it. 

The Receiver

The receiver must listen carefully and ask clarifying questions when necessary to make sure that nothing is misunderstood. 

The Medium

As previously mentioned, once the sender knows what message they want to communicate, they must choose which medium or method to communicate it by. This could be email, text, phone call, in person, etc. There is no one best medium across the board. Each message will require its own medium that will most effectively deliver the information. 

For example, a short message that needs a quick response might be best communicated by a text or instant message. Or planning a project should be completed over a video call instead of by many emails that prolong the planning period by waiting for responses. 


Potential barriers to communication could be things like cultural barriers or age where the sender might use slightly different words to describe a point that the receiver won’t be as familiar with. Distance can also be a barrier as it eliminates the possibility of in-person communication and can make scheduling phone or video calls more difficult if there are time zone changes to be considered. Implicit biases may also affect how you will receive some information from one person differently than if you had been given the same information from another person. 

Recognizing the potential barriers to communication ahead of time can help you mitigate the issue ahead of time. 

For example, if you are a younger person trying to address an older colleague, then using more formal language might be advantageous. Or you should avoid using colloquial phrases when speaking with someone who speaks English as a second language. 

Failure will happen. And whether the cause of failure is from structure, leadership, or even you, its presence should not be lamented. Failure, when used properly, can be a tool used to alert us to issues in our system and can help us move forward in confidence towards our There. Failure is a sign that something is wrong, and so we should seek to fix the problem rather than punish the failure. 

Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.