Being willing and able to fail is a leadership skill.
After all, responding to failure well is how we encourage more of an experimentation mindset, which is essential for innovation.
Let’s look at a couple characteristics of leaders who fail well, then dive into helping others reframe how they view their hurdles.
Richard Farson and Ralph Keys in their book The Failure-Tolerant Leader share, “During his years leading Monsanto, Robert Shapiro was struck by how terrified his employees were of failing. They had been trained to see an unsuccessful product or project as a personal rebuke.”
Shapiro tried hard to change that perception. He explained every product and project was an experiment and that its backers failed only if their work was a halfhearted, careless effort with poor results.
Shapiro and other failure-tolerant leaders employ a number of strategies. Here are two.
Distinguish between excusable and inexcusable failure. Employees must know that failure is okay, but sloppy work will not be tolerated. A failure-tolerant leader is vigilant in examining what happened and why, and can tell the difference between a cavalier attempt that failed and a sincerely executed attempt that missed the mark.
Engage the person, not the project. Failure-tolerant leaders show a genuine interest in employees’ growth and not just the status of the project. They send the message that learning and development are just as important as project success.
When engaging people, the failure-tolerant leader shows interest and expresses support by asking pertinent questions. Opening questions may include: What kinds of challenges are you facing? What might be the next steps we are looking at as a company? The conversations that develop focus on the learning taking place.
Sometimes, however, the answers we get may indicate a colleague or employee has negative thoughts. Here is where a good leader steps in to reframe the situation.
Reframing is a questioning tool used in conflict resolution to re-word or re-state what someone has said more constructively.
Reframing validates the speaker’s experience, then move from his or her perspective to a potentially more constructive one.
Original statement: Don’t you know any better than to submit a proposal that will never fly?
Reframed statement: You may have a point there. How would you improve the proposal to make it fly?
Techniques of reframing can be used to cultivate creative and critical thinking skills.
Original statement: I’ve never been good at public presentations.
Reframed statement: If you imagine yourself as successful at a public presentation, how would you be speaking that would make it successful?”
To succeed and to thrive, we have to be willing and able to step from failure to failure and not give up. We have to be willing and able to hear the tough feedback and duly note how we’ve messed up, what we overlooked, what failed, and make the necessary adjustments and keep moving forward.
Mary Martin is a University of Wyoming Extension community development educator serving western Wyoming. She can be reached at (307) 733-3087 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.