Do You Encourage Your Employees to Fail? – What Side Are You On?

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel where various topics around leadership were being discussed. One of the questions posed by the moderator was, “Is it alright to let your employees fail?” Of course, there were a lot of people looking for a yes or no answer, however you yourself know it isn’t as simple as that.

From my perspective, the real issue isn’t about whether to let someone fail, but more importantly, how does this simple thought impact an organization. In having the opportunity to be involved in a lot of different organizations and in working with various leaders, I can tell you first hand, how this question is answered tells you a whole lot about the organizations.

There are two different types of organizations;the ones who only see failure and the ones who simply don’t even know what it means to fail. I would guess by the question asked by the moderator, he has likely worked for at least one of the former organizations or leaders.

Organizations built on measuring and preventing failure, function differently than the other. The leaders, believe there is a right and wrong way to do things. They provide direction based on already having a predefined expectation of the result, and delegate task and measure results on getting things accomplished. These organizations are generally quite rigid and cautious, and build into their employees that the idea to succeed means not to fail. Most decisions are made from the top and there is certainty in the structure.

On the other hand, organizations and leaders who choose to let go of the idea of failure, see obstacles as just the next thing to work through. The leaders are willing to take on more risk, to try new things and to let their employees come up with creative solutions. They delegate by talking about the results they are looking to achieve and trust their employees deliver them. At times, deadlines are more of a guideline than a rule and priorities may be shifted to support what is important today.

There are certainly benefits that come from each of the perspectives. There are organizations that function well, where there is a right and a wrong and there are companies that do well to be creative. One size does not fit all here, although it is better to define who you are and live that, rather than trying to fool yourself into believing yourself to be something different.

You will have seen cases, where a leader talks about how creativity is encouraged and yet, they shoot down new ideas. It is where the organization promotes itself having established systems and yet when a new employee asks for a manual, there isn’t one and they are told to figure it out. It is where people are told it is okay to fail and yet when they do, they are punished. It is when an organization and its leaders, say one thing and do something completely different.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember we are all going to have moments of success and moments of challenge, however the magic comes in never being defined by either.

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