As the Co-Founder and CEO of barre3, one of the most prolific workout classes in the game, Sadie Lincoln has a deep understanding of how every facet of her business operates. Mostly because, when she first started out, she tried to do it all—including *literally* teaching the classes. After spending over a decade as a founder, she learned the importance of failing forward, learning from what feels like a catastrophe in the moment, and taking those lessons into the future. Here, she shares practical advice for doing just that.
Several years ago, I was talking to my mentor, Wayde Elliott, about my fear of failing as a leader. I was going on and on about how I wasn’t at the end zone yet, that place where my high standards were finally met, and he stopped me. “What if you look at this differently?” he asked. “Instead of striving for perfection, strive for progress.”
That moment shifted my entire mindset. Perfection is stifling and ridden with shame, while progress is about potential and empowerment. And progress allows room for failure—something I used to dread but, thanks to my newfound progress-over-perfection mindset, has become one of my greatest teachers. Since that conversation with Wayde, I’ve come to not just accept my failures, but to feel grateful for them for helping me grow, learn, and thrive. Here are some of my greatest failures and what I’ve learned from them.
You Can’t Do Everything By Yourself—So Stop Trying
When I first startedbarre311 years ago, I took on everything myself. I was teaching 19 classes a week, nurturing and caring for every client who walked through the door, and opening, closing, and cleaning the studio myself. It was a necessary failure; I was spearheading a brand new methodology of teaching, so I had to teach the classes myself before anyone else could. But it was too much, and finally my body shut down.
I realized that instead of trying to do it all on my own, it would be more efficient to put my energy towards training a competent and nurturing team. I poured myself into developing a strong instructor-training program, which is still one of the cornerstones of our company. Today we have 170+ studios around the U.S. and Canada and close to 1,500 instructors—a feat I never would have accomplished if I had continued to insist on doing everything myself.
Hire People Who You Need, Not Who Need You
I’m a natural nurturer and I have unbridled optimism in people—and while those can be positive traits in some aspects of life, they can backfire when it comes to hiring your team. In the beginning, I made the mistake of slipping into my comfort zone and hiring people who really needed my constant guidance. I quickly learned that when I hired through this lens, none of us thrived. Ultimately I had to override my mothering instinct and hire people who made me and the company better. That shift made all the difference. Instead of locking myself into a nurturer role, I created a team that was empowered, capable, and committed to learning together.
Trust A Red-Flag Hire When You See It
Even with what I’ve learned about hiring, I don’t always land the right fit on the first try. I can usually sense a misguided hire very early on, and while my temptation is sometimes to ignore or excuse the red flags, I’ve learned that it’s healthy to let go of people who are not aligned with our needs as a company. It can feel terrible to let someone go, but it’s far more compassionate to do it early on than to drag them along in a job they’re not thriving in. And I’ve found that making these tough calls has created trust in our organization. Team members have told me that they respect that I’m sticking to the core values of our organization when I let people go who don’t uphold them.
Be Transparent About Your Own Failures And So Will Your Team
I always told my team it was OK to fail, but for many years I didn’t talk about my own failures. By doing this, I was unknowingly creating a culture where people didn’t feel safe to fail. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I sat in the hot seat in front of my entire company and talked about three big failures, that the culture shifted. By sharing my biggest missteps, I gave everyone permission to do the same in their roles. Since that day we’ve been far more bonded as a team and we’re more comfortable taking greater risks. I’m so committed to failure as a learning tool that we begin our quarterly leadership meetings by having every team member talk about one to three things we’ve failed at and—this part is key—then discussing what we’ve learned from that failure. When we move beyond the actual failure to the learning component, we shed the shame around it and turn it into progress.
Look For The Lesson
In every barre3 class, we teach our clients to fail forward. Evidence-based science tells us that when you take your body to failure in a purposeful way (proper alignment, not pushing past pain), that’s when true change occurs. Your body reaches its limit, and then it rebuilds and becomes even stronger than before. The same principle applies to the mind. Fear of failure keeps us from trying new things—and that keeps us from growing. When we push ourselves to failure in a conscious way, we rebuild and come back even stronger, smarter, and more empowered than ever before.
Next time you fail at work, let yourself feel that inevitable initial sting, but then step back and ask yourself some questions: Did the failure teach you anything about yourself? About your business? What will you do differently next time? When you give yourself some grace and open yourself up to learning, you’ll grow by leaps and bounds.