Leaders who can’t fail won’t succeed because failure is essential to success. A world without failure is dead. Furthermore:
Leaders frequently fail at letting others fail.
Leaders who can’t let others fail:
- Limit growth.
- Hog tie innovation.
- Sap confidence.
- Live fearing the next failure; they’re control freaks.
- Tend to blame rather than develop.
Hand-holding isn’t helping:
Help strengthens; hand-holding creates dependency. Pseudo-kindness motivated you to hold someone’s hand – protect or cover for them.
Hand-holding doesn’t strengthen it weakens.
For example, you’ve been constantly reminding someone of deadlines because they don’t follow-through. At first it was helpful. But, hand-holding enabled their weakness. Their weakness became your responsibility.
Carrying others isn’t good for anyone, over the long-term.
Frustration from covering incompetency motivates you to let go. Anger gives you the courage to do what you should have done long ago. Not healthy!
Fixing your failure:
Always work with your boss. Say:
- I’ve been covering for someone’s weaknesses.
- I thought it would help but it didn’t.
- I see how I weakened the team.
- I plan to let go. I hope they rise up but they may fail.
- Do you have any suggestions?
At this point, the foolishness of hand-holding should be obvious. You blew it.
Five benefits of failure:
Trust: People who “never” fail can’t be trusted. Trust people who fail and own it. Environments where failure is prohibited are filled with deception, posturing, and blame.
Growth: Failure points are often growth points.
People who can’t fail can’t grow.
Strength: Working through failure strengthens everyone.
Capacity: Strength from failure expands capacity.
Wisdom: Successful failure makes us wise, even if it’s just learning what doesn’t work.
The only reason to let someone fail is long-term benefit outweighs short-term risk. Fail small.
How do you know when it’s time to let someone fail?
How can leaders help others fail well?
See how Facebook readers answered: “Before you let someone fail _______.”
There always comes a time in the work world when you have to let the reins go loose and let them at it, themselves. Leaders who try to retain total control are not rounded Leaders who are able to see the advantages in growth through experiential education.
Those with the ability and tenacity to leave them off and let them at it will have built a platform of mutual trust and sharing of information, where the learning bounces back and forth and all parties grow with new mistakes being made in a different way by a new personality.
Creating this learning forum to enable growth within a business and create new Leadership opportunities for individuals takes guts and courage, for even you too as a Leader may have to put your hands up and admit you got it wrong and made a mistake too !
Thanks for focusing on learning; it gives meaning to failing.
Your comment makes me think about the importance of transparency in organizations. We learn less when we aren’t open.
How bout this reframe…Leaders frequently fail at letting others learn. Or ‘coaching others in learning.’
How can leaders help others fail well?
By now you know that my profession has been teaching. I think leadership strategies apply in the classrooom as well as in business or government.
I’ve always felt students deserve and need my support the most when they least deserve it. When we have really goofed, it’s the people who stand by us that earn the right to lead us in the future. Never escalate or ridicule bad situations.
A good laugh doesn’t hurt either, but we must be laughing with them not at them.
When I owned a business I always said, “If we aren’t making any mistakes we aren’t trying enough new things”. But those words are only true if you don’t over react to a failed venture.
Thank you for this Dauna! “I’ve always felt students deserve and need my support the most when they least deserve it.”
Moments of failure are high opportunity moments where we can step in, not to hold-hands, but to help everyone get the most from them.
Successful failure humbles us and opens us to new ideas.
A very good post to understand successful failure. Successful failure is one where a person learns lesson not to fail further. I agree and appreciate your point that environments where failure is prohibited are filled with deception, posturing and blame. It is an excellent point. It happens where result is more important than efforts. And people in such organizations generally wear masks. They pretend to have more knowledge than others. I also think that successful failure maximizes options that continuous success prevents it. So, between success and failure, it is the later that makes one more matured, wise and determined. When someone is blind by success, then is the time to let someone fail. When someone is full of ego and boast about his success, then is the time to let him fail.
Leaders can help others fail well by creating a situations where failing person learns lesson. And that failure should strengthen the person. It should fill person with lot of confidence, determination and courage.
Successful failure is where we learn not to fail in the same way again… thank you. I’m glad you shared your insights.
Thought provoking as usual. I for one was a bit of a control freak when I was a manager. Never wanting to let my clients down I made sure I had eyes on everything. I thought I was helping my staff by reducing their responsibility but looking back I just created stress for myself and depleted their sense of achievement. These are great observations and wonderful advice – I imagine I would still struggle to decide what were small failures and what were large if I were back in that position again. Great post. 🙂
The leader needs to encourage their team to challenge the process in spite of the risks.
In the moment of failure, it’s important to celebrate. Ask them what they learned. What would they have done differently.
The leader needs to be consistent in their actions when their people fail. Otherwise, you’re sending mixed messages. This will stifle growth.
p.s. Archie Bunker was the last person I ever heard say the word stifle. I don’t know, it just felt right to say it here. ;-p
Dan, thanks for the great reminder. At times I get so focused on wanting my teammates to succeed that I jump in when they are struggling to “make the save” when in reality they would grow and learn if I stepped back and let them handle it on their own. Great post.
*sigh* I just failed big time. Sent an email to 500 primary schools on my mailing list with the word nursery school in it instead of primary school. *bangs head on table*
LOL, been there, hit that ‘send’ button too….am flashing back on a 70s show, KUng Fu…”and what have you learned grasshopper?”
Been thinking about this… my tendancy is to beat myself black and blue and think I’m a total failure, completely useless, this business will never work because I’m such a stupid waste of space. Now that’s done, I was thinking, if I was a boss and my employee made that mistake, I’d say, don’t worry about it, next time get someone to proof-read your mailings. We’ll wait a week and send out a whole new campaign and forget it happened. So that’s what I’m telling myself now (I’m running my own business) and that’s what I’m going to do. Although I still feel like a total idiot…
This awesome advice applies to all levels of leadership. It’s good as parents to recognize that we need to help our children grow by allowing them to fail. It’s good as teachers to let our students grow by learning from their failures. There isn’t a place this advice doesn’t work.
I’ve had a saying on my desk for a long time
“If only we let them”
This is so true! I’ve learned this the hard way. I used to have the philosophy that if I wanted something done right, I’d have to do it myself. This puts way too much stress and responsibility on myself. It takes away the confidence of others, and leaves with with apathy. Then, when you do try to let them do it, they fail and everyone gets upset!
Because failure is inevitable, to falsely harbor others from it, does them a disservice if significant proportion. Failure is part of the price of admission for success on down the road. If you are denying others that opportunity to be introspective so that they can grow into more complete leaders, then who is it all about? Them or you?
The ‘mea culpa’ is a very powerful leadership tool, used with wisdom, skill and timing. Too often–> competence may be questioned. Too little–>implied arrogance may surface. Owning failure, even very publicly, is powerful and often adds forgiveness, if genuine and if failure’s ripples are manageable.
I absolutely love this Idea! The world is killing itself with a culture where failure is wrong. We need to utilize our leadership to change this. Without failure being accepted, there is no motivation for creativity which is the fuel for progression! Great Article!
Failing to Learn is a great message. As a leader when we know the person is likely to fail in a task due to lack of required understanding or falling short of certain skills But has the courage to undertake the task and puts in required efforts ..that’s the time he leader need to allow him to have learning experience. Great Post Don.
Great reminder for all of us. One of the most difficult bosses I had was one who “hovered” over us so that we wouldn’t fail. It made it almost impossible to grow under him. In fact most of the high performers got out of the department so that we could grow, and flourish.
Holding people accountable, for success and failure, without playing a blame game fosters innovation and growth in any organization.
Just gave 360 feedback to a co-worker and experienced some great growth opportunities… some tips to help someone “fail well”: clear, specific feedback re the error… given quickly with grace – not character judgement(!)… adding ideas/tips for preferred future actions >>> hope!
Dan, In my August 2010 blog I posted a sermon that sounds so like your posting that used a comment on it to link to your post. It’s very interesting to see that the best advice I get from a secular leadership post, falls so in line with the spiritual encouragement I meant to offer in the sermon “Failing Our Way to Success.” Thank you for the confirmation and, as always, the added insight.
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yes its very right, we are all the products of our experience ,,don’t let your failure stifle your new ideas