Why letting your reports break their nose is a good thing

Posted August 26, 2009 in Latest News & Insights

Recently, I was talking to a group of managers about how leaders can personally overcome the fear of failure. It’s something that many people in leadership roles seem to struggle with… that need to have all the right answers and to be in control at all times.

Some people are fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) to have very long career runs without ever experiencing failure.  And many, as Christine commented in a previous post, are actually driving themselves to success in an attempt to avoid their own fear of failure.

But the harsh reality is that, eventually, you will fail.  If you were lucky enough to have the screw up happen early in your career, when the stakes possibly weren’t as high, you will likely have learned that you have the ability to bounce back.

If, however, the failure happens after years of success then there is a high possibility of this career blip becoming a confidence-killing career derailer.

As leaders, we need to fail to know that we can get through failure.  As the old cliché goes: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Just as importantly though, we need to pass this crucial skill on to direct reports.

As one of The Executive Roundtable executive mentors says: “I’ll let my people run into a brick wall and break their nose, but I won’t let them break their teeth”.  Personally, they both sound horrendously painful, but I suppose, in his opinion, a shattered nose is an easier fix than a full set of dental implants.

Here’s the bottomline: as a leader, you have a responsibility to develop people to their full potential and part of that is allowing them to fail…safely.  Consider this: you’ve probably learned more from situations in your life that didn’t go well than from those that were a cake walk. Your direct reports are no different. So, think about how you can give them enough space to try out new things where the consequences of their failures won’t end in a lawsuit or years of therapy (for them or you!) and let them fail away.  It’s your job!

In a future blog we’ll talk about what it takes to get comfy with failure for those of you control freaks out there that are now squirming.

Happy leading!


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