Don’t Fear Failure

The best lessons in life we learned through our mistakes. Every mistake provides an opportunity to do something different next time, but only if we deliberately reflect and choose a new path.

How many people have you met that make the same mistake over and over again? Some people learn from their mistakes, some do not. We know this to be true for individuals. The same is true for teams and organizations. Does your team make the same mistake over and over again?

Amy Edmondson states that in order to build a learning environment, the leader must acknowledge his or her own fallibility. That makes perfect sense. We believe that the team will take on the persona of the leader – this certainly applies to how you make, admit and learn from mistakes. Some organizations will continue to make the same mistakes, while others actively embrace them, analyze them, discuss them and learn from them. This is a critical difference between good and great teams. The leader must commit and model this behavior because most people do not know how to do this.

The first step in learning from your mistakes is admitting you made them. If you want your team members to actively admit and discuss mistakes, then you need to show them how to do it. You will have your chance to do this the next time you make a mistake. This should be easy because we are all human and none of us are perfect! This is what we mean by “acknowledge fallibility”.

This is actually hard to do because many leaders are too focused on impression management. They don’t want to look ignorant, incompetent, or mediocre. As a result, they don’t admit mistakes. They don’t model how to learn from mistakes. If our best teachers are our last mistakes, then what are you doing to help your organization learn? Imagine what you could accomplish if your team members openly and honestly confronted mistakes?

It’s up to you to be the best you can be. Here are a few ways you can promote and foster a healthy culture where you are truly learning from your mistakes, and encouraging others to do the same.

  1. Admit your mistakes. Whenever possible, do it in person. People respect honesty and when we screw it up, we own it.
  2. Ask for help. Practice a new leadership habit, such as asking: “What do you think?”
  3. Be willing to show vulnerability. Like empathy, vulnerability is often mistaken for weakness. The strongest, most effective leaders we have ever known were often first to demonstrate their vulnerabilities. How will you encourage others to learn from their mistakes if you are unwilling or unable to set the example?
  4. Reward ideas from others. Put the good ones into action, and publicly thank the authors.

Fallibility, “the liability to err” (Merriam –Webster’s definition), is part of our lives as leaders. We must embrace it from the standpoint that it makes us human. Start your next phase of the leadership journey by helping your team learn from mistakes. You must model the behaviors you want of your team. You set the standard. Make work a learning problem, not an execution problem.

Enjoy the journey!