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.

Sunflowers and windmill

Deal firmly with the arrogant, gently with the humble, and shrewdly with manipulators.

4 things NOT to do when someone fails:

  1. Don’t cover your eyes. Ignored disappointments return.
  2. Don’t rush in to save the day. Savior-leaders promote incompetence in others.
  3. Don’t bring it up publicly. Compassion embarrasses recipients when expressed too openly by givers.
  4. 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.

  1. Arrogance rejects responsibility. Listen for excuses, blame, resistance, or over-reaction. (Over-reaction points to number three on this list.)
  2. Humility owns mistakes. Listen for responsibility-taking followed by learning, growth, and gratitude.
  3. 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.

Deal firmly with the arrogant, gently with the humble, and shrewdly with manipulators.

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?