Apr 10 2011

I watched a TED video the other day where General Stanley McChrystal was talking about leadership and he said that leaders need to allow their people to fail, without them being a failure. That struck a chord with me and then I had a discussion with a friend on Friday night where he said the problem at his company (a major Blue Chip where he is the Global Head of a Department) is that everyone is afraid to fail. The company frowns on failure!

How are we supposed to learn and “push the boat out” if we are afraid to fail? How can we take the necessary risks to create new and exciting things, concepts, services, products, etc… if we are afraid to fail. Thomas Watson, former president of IBM said “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate”. Society seems to be afraid of failure, of getting hurt, of making mistakes, but how are we supposed to learn if we never try anything new? How can we invent the next internet, the next washing machine, the next spaceship if we are afraid to fail?

We all want to be successful and fortunately that means different things to different people so we are not all after the same thing, but we have to feel free to make mistakes and to fail in our endeavors – Thomas Edison wouldn’t have perfected the light bulb had he been afraid to fail! Let your people fail, encourage them to fail! Think about how you can make failure a positive, a learning experience. Try the small experiment approach that Toyota uses to ensure that the failures are not so big that they impact the business, the successes will come and build on each other, the learning from the experience will spread quickly. Feeling free to fail without being a failure means people will take the risks that are necessary to take us to new places, to new heights, to new territories and inevitably to success, however we define it!

“If you’ve never made a mistake, you’ve never made anything”! Think about what comes from success – a great feeling – but what do we learn from it, usually not much. Think about what comes from failure, usually a bad feeling but what an opportunity to learn! Go out, make a go of it and don’t be afraid to fail -“Life’s real failure is when you do not realize how close you were to success when you gave up” – giving up and being afraid to make mistakes is the failure, not the actual trying and getting it wrong!

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  1. Tudor
    April 10, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    Thanks for this. Numerous polls and anecdotal evidence tag 'fear of failure' as a major block to creativity also. Which supports my view that leadership and creativity may have more in common than might be imagined from reading textbooks on either topic. [BTW: apologies if I have missed any comments made to Leaders we deserve in the past]

    • ch53ecc
      April 10, 2011 at 9:30 PM

      It was interesting how several "sources" lead me to the same topic within a few days - something I have seen many times myself presents itself in many organisations. Thanks for you feedback!

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