How to Respond Skillfully to the Three Types of Failure
The most instructive moment in organizational life is failure. Success teaches you to repeat things, but responsible failure turns on the lights.
4 things NOT to do when someone fails:
- Don’t cover your eyes. Ignored disappointments return.
- Don’t rush in to save the day. Savior-leaders promote incompetence in others.
- Don’t bring it up publicly. Compassion embarrasses recipients when expressed too openly by givers.
- Don’t act like a dog on a bone. Repeating someone’s failure is like a vomiting dog.
3 types of failure:
There are three types of failure – arrogant, humble, and manipulative.
- Arrogance rejects responsibility. Listen for excuses, blame, resistance, or over-reaction. (Over-reaction points to number three on this list.)
- Humility owns mistakes. Listen for responsibility-taking followed by learning, growth, and gratitude.
- Manipulation pretends to repent and does it again. Notice negative patterns. (Manipulation is a subtle form of #1 above.)
Responding to the three types of failure:
Culture is built by things you tolerate.
When you ignore arrogant failure, you undermine values and demotivate teams. Consequences may not help the arrogant, but they instruct and encourage everyone else.
Second chances give life to the humble and teach teams that failure isn’t final. You may need to redefine a job, reassign a person, or provide retraining.
When manipulators fail, they make you feel responsible. YOU should have done more. YOU let them down. If you aren’t careful, their failure becomes your fault.
Manipulators are partially right. You could have done more.
You’ve been manipulated when you end up working harder than they work to correct their failure.
Rule #1 when dealing with failure:
Always seek the best interest of everyone.
Never wish harm or seek vengeance, even in the face of arrogance or manipulation.
Every response to failure, even termination, must always express positive intention.
What types of failure do you see in organizations?
How might leaders best respond when others fail?
Dan I’m so thankful for your words each day. Today I was reminded of a failure I made in high school many years ago. I deserved to be punished in a big way but grateful for a my principal that gentle pulled me aside and spoke truth into my life. That was a huge turning point for me. The way he handled my failure allowed me to humble myself and begin to make the necessary changes I need to make. Thanks!
Thanks Brian. You share a powerful story. Nothing like kindness in the face of failure. I hope most of us have similar stories. I know I do.
Insightful: “Consequences may not help the arrogant, but they instruct and encourage everyone else.”
Thanks Jackie. It’s a pleasure to serve.
What types of failure do you see in organizations?
I see all 3 you mentioned above for sure and they surface multiple times a day if you stop and look around.
How might leaders best respond when others fail? Most importantly is owning the failure and determine the best method you correct things for all parties involved. Depending on who is affected by the actions of failure may determine the fix. If ABC company had damages by “Us” then surely whatever it takes to make all parties satisfied, for example.
I prefer to take an individual aside and discuss their actions and offer the solutions so they don’t continue down the path of failure as “Brian” mentioned above. Teachers and mentors gave us chances when we may have reached a bad time and nurtured us to become better people for it. If the paddle fit they used it!!! Just saying, last time I did not do my homework on that occasion, the Teacher was not amused and it never happened again for me. Lesson Learned..
Thanks Tim. The idea of impact speaks to me. Who is impacted? How are they impacted? After some reflection, the best solution may emerge. Your approach forces us to think outside ourselves. I find that shift is important and useful.
As a result of an incident I was called upon to negotiate yesterday, I was already thinking about this topic when it came up on my screen this morning. One thing I concluded in my experience was to demand less grace from the person I’m in conflict with than I expect to give on my part. Too often, I see adults acting like schoolyard “enemies” in which each tries to pay back more than was received. That seems like a formula that will spiral out of control.
Thanks Henry. It seems like we can give grace, but grace can’t be demanded. I suppose there are many times we wish people would be more graceful. But the only grace I control is the grace I give away.
I just came out the other side of a Leadership Fail and this helps me put it in perspective. Thank you for putting words to the feelings I was having about being manipulated! The statement “You’ve been manipulated when you end up working harder than they work to correct their failure.” was eye-opening! This post is going on my wall as a reminder to me as I move forward.
Thanks Hope. I wish you well as you move forward. Manipulation can dishearten us.
To deal positively with failure is a cornerstone of being a good leader. Everyone will fail in life and those that can make it a positive and learning moment will make those around them better for the next opportunity to succeed. Acting in a positive manner with all of these types of failures will make it easier to get through to those that failed, but doing so in an appropriate manner is just as important.
I played baseball all through high school and 2 years at a junior college. One thing I loved about baseball is most of the time you are going to fail. If you have a batting average over .333 you were successful. This means you only got a hit 1 out of 3 times and 2 out of the 3 times, you failed. During my high school years of playing, I had a great coach that taught me many things about baseball and life lessons too. Being completely honest, I did not have a great coach my 2 years of college baseball. One major difference, amongst the many, I saw between my high school and college coaches were their attitudes when batting. If you got two strikes, my high school college would still be encouraging and giving positive feedback like, “Protect the plate, shorten your swing, get the ball is play.” My college coach had a very different attitude in the same situation. When you got two strikes, he would turn his back to you and act as if you already have failed. His poor leadership reflected among the team.