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.
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:
- Expect, respect, and honor boldness.
- Celebrate learning.
- Provide opportunities to take responsibility for failure.
- Evaluate assumptions.
- What did you expect to happen? Why?
- What actually happened? Why?
- 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.
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.
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
I love all the responsibility stuff. I try to let people find ways that don’t work and see why, then find their own ways that will work, because those ways are where the new, better ways come from. Sadly, I’ve had to defend those people when higher managers have said “we operate a “no blame culture” but at review time, I want to know who’s fault stuff is”. Seriously.
Thanks Mitch. Don’t get me started on annual reviews. We hire people for strengths and evaluate them on weaknesses. Doesn’t that seem a little bizarre?
When they are hired, they’re incredible and we are lucky to have them. Come review time, they’re losers.
Ugh and that model is a sure way to stress employees out. What does that do?!
Indeed, not to mention safety incidents going underground and not being reported.
So punishing people for honesty about mistakes actually causes of more mistakes.
Yes, future mistakes go underground because management is measured by these mistakes.
I absolutely loved the Billy Bob example of the kind of reaction you will get if you criticize someone putting themselves out there even though they “failed” at answering a question correctly. If you want participation, you cannot criticize, but if they do fail that is then your opportunity to teach and guide them to the correct answer. We do this a lot in Safety. Many times people may do the wrong thing, but we must not chastise them or they will not want to follow policy in the future or be on board.
Thanks Jenna. What’s surprising is the responsibility we have to create a learning environment.
We might want to blame “those” people for not learning. But, if it’s not safe to fail, it’s not safe to learn from failure. All that’s allowed is success.
Great article Dan.
Failing responsibly is to fail forwards where you learn from your mistakes. As with marketing, sometimes you must try different things to see what works best. It’s less about failing and more about what can we do better.
Equally leaders must set up an environment where their people are set up to succeed. This means hiring the right person for the job. Setting the expectations and providing ongoing coaching and mentoring support so if and when they do fail, they do so in a learning environment.
Failing is such an important part of learning. In school you always hear “learn from your mistakes” and I think that people forget this when they go into the workforce. Failing on the job can definitely be scary, but from personal experience, it is so beneficial when it comes to learning and growing– you will never make that same mistake again. Especially as a young employee, failure should be expected. Knowing how to take the fall gracefully and come back from it even better than before is such a crucial skill. Thank you for pointing out these ways to help ourselves and others fail responsibly!
This post reminds me of a few inspirational quotes from 2 great leaders. I re-read these when I’m criticized by toxic leaders. Typically the criticism comes as I have a great success (with a few failures along the way) as they try to knock me down (usually in public!).
“You can be the toughest, most demanding leader on the planet and still treat people with respect and dignity. Whether it’s the lowest-level supervisory position or the very top job, a leader can and should treat people right. To quote President Harry Truman, “Always be nice to all the people who can’t talk back to you. I can’t stand a man or woman who bawls out underlings to satisfy an ego.” R. Gates – Sec. of Def.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
A cattle ranching friend of mine told me, “Don’t kill the mavericks! You have to rein them in occasionally, but they strengthen the herd.”
Similarly, a ski patrol veteran chided me one day when I announced proudly I had not fallen all day. He said, “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying to improve.”
Push the envelope responsibly and learn from your mistakes.
I found very enriching information and orientations, being very significant to my sense, that we should not even, offer any space on our minds, conceiving the possibility of a “Plan” B, once behaving that way, for sure, you are playing against your major objectives ! This orientation, for sure, is to be considered,in life, as the “GOLD STANDARD BEHAVIOR” to be adopted by those, who really are planning to SUCCEED!