Growing up outside the city of Philadelphia, I was constantly struck by the prevalence of what appeared to be “haves” and “have-nots” between city lines. When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a letter to my 18-year-old self promising that I would commit to resolving the opportunity divide between communities. Following several years with Teach for America and KIPP Public Charter Schools after college, I decided to go to law school at Drexel University, where I was reminded that failure is practice on the way to becoming great.
One of my professors, Karl Okamoto, introduced us to a new way of learning that incorporated continuous feedback from our peers and endless opportunities to practice and refine our skills. Rather than forcing us to sink or swim on the first try, Professor Okamoto offered us the skills to try and try again. These lessons guided me in my career, and led me, Professor Okamoto, and Paul Tzen to co-found Practice, a video-based learning solution used to scale skill development through practice and feedback.
As we met success, our team of three grew, and I became a manager. As a co-founder of a company, I have little patience for mistakes. However, I have come to know that these mistakes ultimately lead to growth and make up the road to success. While in law school, I learned that failing coupled with feedback leads to success, but it remains difficult as a manager to watch mistakes happen and not react negatively. Rather than going with instinct, I learned to react with feedback and provide opportunities for my team to try again. In the short term, that’s a nerve-wracking practice. In the long term, it not only helps the company grow but, perhaps more importantly, helps each individual grow.
Creating a Cadence of Success
Failure isn’t the end of a path but, instead, a necessary stepping stone toward success. Finding out what doesn’t work is a learning process that makes way for more visions, attempts and great ideas in the future. Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum, especially when it comes to scaling from a startup to public company. There may be an initial vision, but if the team isn’t empowered to contribute and build on that idea or offer new ones, for fear of failing, projects and companies fizzle.
Leaders can create environments that drive success by infusing these five essential habits into their team dynamic:
- Be clear on responsibility and accountability: Help people understand their context within the company, and assure them the organization is invested in their skill sets. Share clear goals and objectives regularly by maintaining check-ins with team members.
- Demonstrate consistency, and set the pace: Leaders don’t only tell their teams what success looks like; they show them. Work hard. Deliver results. Set the pace. This example engenders a society of excellence.
- Empower decision-making at all levels: Encourage people to make their own decisions. Offer your view, but let the person responsible know that he or she has the final call. When people know they are trusted to make decisions, magic happens.
- Model openness: Let the team know that nothing is gained from hiding viewpoints in order to seek consensus. Encourage dialogue and discussion. Mistakes happen; be open about them, and encourage openness in others.
- Encourage a growth mindset: Serve as a resource for your teams, but work hard to avoid a “rescue” mentality. Provide warnings, but don’t swoop in and take over. Allowing people to learn from failures provides valuable experiences.
Failure is not underachieving; it’s practice. Fostering a culture that believes in roadblocks instead of dead-ends creates an environment where going out on a limb is encouraged, and success will more quickly fall into place.