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Is it Safe to Fail on Your Team?


If you want to be surrounded by innovative, creative, and courageously bold leaders, you must develop a culture of risk where people are free to fail.

All innovation, all creativity, all new ideas are inherently risky. In fact, in a world that is changing at light speed, even doing what has been tried and true in the past can be risky. 

There are no guarantees of success. Therefore, building an environment that empowers leaders means making it safe to fail. I people truly feel the freedom to fail in a well intentioned effort, without fear of personal retribution, then they have the freedom to take the kind of risks that could lead to game-changing success.

Here’s one of my favorite hair-brained ideas. Create an annual award with lots of pomp and circumstance for the biggest failure of the year.  Honor those who went after something crucial with good planning and disciplined execution, even though it bombed. You will encourage desirable behavior in your organization by making heroes of those whose efforts you want to see replicated.

I am not saying that we should honor people who failed because of laziness or carelessness. That would be just be silly. By celebrating efforts that failed, in spite of laudable effort, we elevate the value of risk and innovation. You will encourage people throughout your organization when you esteem the efforts and initiative of those who failed in addition to those who succeeded.

A word of warning. Creating an environment that nurtures innovation might confront that internal angst that drives you to seek control. It could interrupt your fears about trusting other people. Because leaders are judged by the performance of their teams, you need to be prepared to take the heat from those who don’t understand what you are doing. But, the end result will yield a culture of bold empowerment that is truly revolutionary.

Let's look at it from another perspective. What is the price you pay for creating a culture that stifles risk?

  1. People lose the motivation to innovate or pioneer anything new.

  2. Leaders live in fear of judgment and punishment.

  3. Your organizational gravity will pull people toward status quo and away from the creative edge.

  4. Potential leaders are neither discovered nor appreciated. 

  5. True leaders will migrate elsewhere where there is room to innovate.

  6. Decision-making power will be governed by risk-averse implementers.

  7. You will lose the life-giving energy of new discoveries.

  8. Your competition with discover the breakthroughs you could have enjoyed.

Embracing risk and failure in the present is ultimately the pathway to the future that you long for.

So, give yourself a grade. Right now, how willing are you to let people fail?

If there was one person in your organization that you could encourage today, who would it be? Any reason not to do so… right now?

This is the 6th and final installment of a multi-part series on “How to Create an Empowering Environment.”  For more, check out the other articles in the series:

  1. Give them a Compelling Reason

  2. The Power of Clear Responsibility

  3. Give People Essential Resources

  4. Leaders Need Community

  5. Who Has Your Back


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