Failure appears to be a buzzword in the workplace today. More and more companies are promoting failure as something that’s “cool” and stimulating. Do these companies’ words match their actions, though? Are companies creating an environment where failure feels safe? The reality is that growth and development happen with discomfort, and discomfort is usually accompanied by failure. Leaders, trainers and educators must approach the process of development with failure.
I received recently some coaching from a cyclist. As I hesitated to venture down a new path, he told me, “When you clip in, you will fall. When you fall, get up and keep going. I pondered this advice for a few minutes; it was so simple, but it applied to so many areas of growth. The problem is that most leaders tell their employees that failure is OK, but they struggle with accepting that idea themselves. Leaders must promote failure both in word and action to accept it with their teams.
People don’t like to be uncomfortable or to feel out of control. We quickly return to our norms when we try something new, and leaders promote this behavior. I once had an employee come to me with a new layout for our project work. She had put the time and effort into mapping it out in a storyboard sequence to show me. I quickly became uncomfortable with what I was seeing, because our current way was working well … for me! However, it appeared that this old approach was uncomfortable for members of my team, and they were proactively working to bring new methods forward. They were approaches that might fail because it was outside their expertise, but they felt the change could help, and I had told them we should try new things. I said experimentation and the failure that may follow with it was OK, but the reality was that I wasn’t OK with it. I needed a mind shift. My focus was on causing the least amount of discomfort for me instead of the people I served. To embrace failure and reach a new level of greatness, we must be brave.
If you struggle with failure, explore why. When change happens in the workplace, companies so often say they want to cause the least amount of disruption for their customers. The reality, however, is that when I ask them, “With this change, whom do you want to disrupt the least?”, they challenge themselves and honestly tell me, “We don’t want it to disrupt us!” When you explore the question of “why,” you’ll come back to the idea of failure.
When this fear of failure occurs, I coach others to perform an exercise I call Greatness Gut Checks. First, make a list of the fears you have around the circumstance. Go through each fear of failure, and decide how much control you have over the fear. What percentage of that fear do you control? Be accountable and honest with yourself by distinguishing facts from opinions. Opinions aren’t usually rooted in facts but, instead, in the stories we tell ourselves. After you decide how much of the fear of failure you are in control of, write what braveness looks like or, in other words, solutions that could result in failure. Write it out step by step, and decide if you can take action steps to lead by example for your team.
It is your choice to embrace failure and lead the way. Take action, and be brave. That bravery is what you are asking of your teams, the people you coach and the people you partner with each time you tell them that failure is OK. Ensure that you have the right mindset to model the way for them and be vulnerable with the process, too.