The following is a guest post by Pablo Mujica, marketing and communications assistant at the Center for Collaborative Leadership. We are thrilled to have Pablo join our team, and offer his thoughts on leadership and the role of failure.
Throughout my academic career (which looks like it’s never going to end at this point), I have had plenty of experience with teams. And, as you might expect, not all of these teams have been successful.
I’ve been on teams with such lack of communication, dynamics, and respect for each other that not even the greatest Ted Talk about leadership could bring us together. Teams that would make the most seasoned leader wonder, “How do these people ever get work done!?”.
Through all of these experiences, one thing I’ve noticed is that teams seem to break down when their leader has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for failure within the group.
The role of failure
Many leaders don’t understand the role of failure within a team, much less within the context of an entire organization. Some leaders tend to demonize the concept of failing so much that, when it does happen, no one has any idea what to do next. By assuming that failure has no intrinsic value whatsoever, leaders often make the mistake of punishing their team for not being able to accomplish their goals. This rarely helps to solve anything and, in fact, can lower the team’s morale and creativity when embarking on the next project.
Failure should be valued by leaders as much as success is. When a team fails at a task, they can regroup, analyze why they’ve failed, and be able to develop a strategy that will help them avoid making the same mistakes in the future. One of my favorite quotes regarding failure comes from Thomas Edison, who said “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I like this quote so much because it tells you one essential truth about failure: It is far more educational than success.
For those hoping to capture the power of teams, let’s talk about how to use failure in your team’s favor.
- Create a place where your team feels safe to fail and learn
I can’t stress this enough. If your team doesn’t feel safe to fail around you, then they will avoid trying anything new. By creating a team environment where failure is accepted and valued as necessary to the learning process, leaders will see their teams improve over time, have more confidence, produce more innovative and creative ideas, and become much more successful in the future.
- Don’t hide your failures
Some leaders are so infatuated with meeting budgets and reaching sale goals that they sometimes avoid discussing their mistakes with others. When leaders embrace their failures and try to educate their team on how to not make the same mistakes, the work environment can improve drastically by generating more honest interactions within the group.Take the heads of Google Larry Page and Sergey Brin, for example, they have invested millions of dollars on ideas that were practically doomed from the start. They call these ventures “Moonshots Projects” and they have a whole website filled with improbable projects, I encourage you to check them out.The point is, Larry and Sergey are not shy about showing off their failures to the public, which is the reason why they have so much success with the projects that are actually successful. They have created an environment where Google employees are able to create amazing products by learning from past mistakes.
- Learn when to move on
As much as someone can keep learning from their mistakes, it is important to keep in mind not to get stuck dwelling on failures. A good leader never stops working to find new ways to tackle a problem, so once they’ve learned what went wrong, they should go ahead and give it another shot. Going back to Edison’s quote, how did this experiment move us one step closer to our goal?