Real Leaders Allow Failure, Are You?


Real Leaders Allow Failure, Are You?

This is a tough and common one.  No normal person,  especially parents, leaders, friends, want to sit back and watch people they care about fail.  But that is life and that is how you build people.  I have told my daughters many times life is a series of wins and mistakes, how you respond to the mistakes is just as important and how you respond to the wins.  Training yourself to respond vs. react to mistakes is extremely important for growth.  I recently had a situation at work which I pulled the team together and did a retrospective.  We adopted this process from our software development group to review when mistakes are discovered.  A retrospective is a process that leads to improvement and alleviation of mistakes or at least minimizing them.  It goes like this:

  1. Map out what happened – flow chart, timeline, anything that lays out what lead up to the issue
  2. Discuss what was worked
  3. Discuss what didn’t work or just failed
  4. Determine what could be improved
  5. Determine how to incorporate the improvements into the process for future cases or issues that come arise

In order to allow for retrospectives, you need to fall into the Model 2 leadership style, Model 1 leaders usually do not allow for this type of interaction.  Are you a Model 1 or Model 2 Leader?

Model 1 Leader Traits

  • Defensive, Inconsistent, Controlling, Fearful of Being Vunerable
  • Limited or don’t allow freedom of choice or risk taking
  • Control environment, define and control tasks
  • Time based vs. Performance/Scoreboard based

Model 2 Leaders

  • Facilitator, promote collaboration, choice, free thinking to accomplish task
  • Target based thinking vs. task based thinking (not micro-managing)
  • Allow and encourage freedom of thought and idea testing
  • Tasks are jointly controlled
  • Learning oriented environment

Needless to say the Model 2 leadership style leads to increased long-run effectiveness, while the Model 1 leadership – not so much.

Two books that really helped me understand leadership, the concept of Level 5 leadership and the Law of the Lid are Jim Collins book Good to Great and John Maxwell’s book  The 5 Levels of Leadership.  Level 5 Leadership is based on the idea that respect towards people, selflessness by the leader, and a strong powerful commitment to achieve results, bring out the best in subordinates.  Level 5 leaders are a blend of fierce will and personal humility.  Level 5 leaders are stubborn, ruthless yet humble.  They are ambitious for their company, an rarely allow their ego to be an obstacle.  I am hyper-sensitive to ego as I know this can be the root of many problems in personal and professional life.

Both of these books really emphasize hiring the right people, getting them on the right seats, and setting really high long term goals.  AND yes, letting them fail forward!!  This is critical for growth of a person to achieve superb results that are long lasting.  It requires a lot of time and personal investment from the leader who typically does not get credit – so you have to be ok with that.  I call this building the pyramid vs. towers.  Level 5 leaders build next generation leaders continually so there is organizational strength that can not be easily knocked over.  The hardest thing to get my head around was if you are a true Level 5 leader, you can leave and the company will strive.  If the leader leaves and the company fails, you are below Level 5 and there is either ego or some baggage that is keeping you back.  The good news is you can become a Level 5 leader with work, education, and changing habits that are long term.  Let go of the insecurities, be ok with your weaknesses, and get to Level 5 – that is the target.


Action Items

  • Read the books –  Good to Great  by Jim Collins and  The 5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell
  • Start small by doing a few retrospectives with the team – Allow freedom of thought
  • Change your environment to make it easier to perform (inviting vs. discouraging)
  • Encourage Change and Model It
  • Celebrate small successes

Remember that an environment of failing forward is a growing culture and company.  It WILL NOT be bliss and there should be natural tensions and conflict to challenge growth.  Growth happens out of your comfort zone, so be uncomfortable and GROW!!!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

5 thoughts on “Real Leaders Allow Failure, Are You?

  1. Craig – you’re right on. So important to allow the freedom to make mistakes. Don’t make the same ones again and again but if you’re moving fast enough you’re going to make a few mistakes.

    • Craig,
      Thanks for the post and I totally agree. Allowing your team members to be creative in their work seems to provide a feeling of trust but also allows for the freedom to make mistakes. A leader’s reaction to the successes and the failures will dictate how creative the team continues to be.
      It is certainly not easy to allow failure and commend the effort… But it is necessary for a team to grow.

Comments are closed.