5 Ways to Teach People How to Fail Responsibly

Your response to failure promotes learning or fortifies stupidity.

Punish responsible failure, if you want everyone to play it safe.

Why fail:

Teach people how to fail responsibly so they can reach their potential.

If you never fail, you’re disrespecting yourself. You’re reaching too low.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T. S. Eliot

5 ways to teach people how to fail responsibly:

  1. Expect, respect, and honor boldness.
  2. Celebrate learning.
  3. Provide opportunities to take responsibility for failure.
  4. Evaluate assumptions.
    • What did you expect to happen? Why?
    • What actually happened? Why?
  5. Share your own failures when others fail.

Bonus: Confront people who never fail.

Responsible failure is giving your best, but falling short. 

Irresponsible failure doesn’t create improvement because you didn’t give your best. 

Honor responsible failure.

Suppose Billy-Bob raises his hand and says, “Providence is the capital of Texas.”

If the teacher says, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Billy-Bob learns to not raise his hand.

If the teacher says, “Let’s go look at a map to see where Providence really is,” Billy-Bob learns.

When you punish responsible failure, people stop bringing their best.

Expect responsibility.

The opportunity to take responsibility for failure is respect not punishment.

When people fall short, expect them to make it right. Avoid ridicule, hand-wringing, name-calling, and anything else weak unskillful leaders might do.

Don’t coddle. It’s disrespectful.

Confront excuse-makers. Honor responsibility-takers.

Special case:

80% certainty is enough, unless you’re betting the farm.

What about people who “never” fail? If they can’t be #1, then they either stop trying or blame others for failure.

Perhaps you have teammates who always succeed, at least in their minds.

When someone says, “I don’t fail.” ask, “What’s important about playing it safe?”

Responsible failure creates a new best.

How might leaders teach others how to fail responsibly?

**This post is inspired by all the great comments on this morning’s post, HOW CONTINGENCY PLANS CAUSE PEOPLE TO PERFORM WORSE AND TRY LESS