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Why Every Leader Has to Allow Teams to Fail

Having experience of 14 years in the Corporate environment, small businesses and Startups I met different CEOs, team leads, Project managers, etc. And I thought that I will start my 'OPINION blog' with a first ASAP topic that bothered me a lot and still is - mistakes at work.

Inc. says: "If your group is constantly worried about not succeeding, they'll never get you the best possible results. Give your team the freedom to fail."

I found a nicely written article by Robert Glazer, who says: "We all need room to make mistakes. The goal should be to learn from them and move forward, without repeating them. A company whose employees are constantly afraid of failing will only create subpar performance and significant problems in the future."


And I agree with it 100%. I met teams that were hiding their mistakes because they were afraid to be fired and making mistakes, to be honest, was the only way for them to learn and grow further. But for that growth, they were punished. Another downside of it - it may cost a lot to a company financially too.

As an example, of what happens when employees aren't free to fail, look no further than Volkswagen's 2017 diesel engine debacle. According to many company executives, former CEO Martin Winterkorn was demanding and authoritarian and abhorred failure; he also fostered a climate of fear.
A key part of Volkswagen's aggressive growth strategy was a new diesel engine that would deliver low emissions and high efficiency--an audacious achievement. The problem was that, as the engine came into production, it didn't meet the goals Winterkorn had publicly stated it would.
Too afraid to bring this failure to their boss, the engineers used their collective ingenuity to cover up the problem, leading to billions of dollars in losses and damage to the brand. @Inc

Another category I met: Micromanaging monsters! Ok ok ok maybe too much, but Micromanagement creates a toxic cultural environment, builds fairness, and slows down the business.


So as we learned above, to do mistakes is a learning curve in the company, it's important to have an open culture to nurture better outcomes after we fix mistakes. What happens when a person does a mistake and his/her leader switches into a 24/7 detective checking every file, document, word? It shows openly to an employee that there is no respect or trust. You lose loyalty, trust, and an employee. Mr Glazer say: 'During tumultuous economic times, such as what we're currently facing, employees are more afraid than ever to make mistakes or preemptively report potential problems. While they aren't aiming to deceive company leadership, employees may decide to avoid bringing mistakes to their superiors' attention, in hopes that the problem can be solved without anybody knowing about it.


Nobody wants to have their mistakes spotlighted in an era marked by economic recession and layoffs. Leaders have to anticipate this fear and encourage the opposite: creating an environment where mistakes and failure are considered part of business, and instead pushing employees to be honest about their shortcomings and learn from them.'


When you openly show that there is no trust in your employees professional past, experience and abilities - You are building insecurities that eventually will work against you. Not only business-wise but also bring other talents into the company. I love how Roger comperes 'Helicopter approach' The concept of failure is a nuanced one with many cultural implications. But ask any successful person and they'll tell you how failure and learning from it contributed to their success. Sadly, so many leaders today are robbing their teams of this valuable experience.


In parenting, we see same principle constant: So-called helicopter parents may be well-intentioned, but they are grossly overreaching. Because they can't handle seeing their kids truly fail at something, they interfere in every area of their lives.


Leaders shouldn't be using this strategy in their organisations. Instead, they should give their employees the psychological safety to make mistake, and instead focus on helping the organisation learn from these mistakes.


As an employee and self-employed person who works with various organisations, I still meet leaders that are stuck in the area of old fashioned fear. Fear of being humiliated by others and implements those insecurities into the team.


Rogers ends with: 'I strongly believe that this explicit and implicit discouragement of failure poses a serious and growing threat for the development of an entire generation. And I'm clearly not the only one.'


And from my side as a person who had such leaders in my career, it definitely put me back in my performance, destroyed my loyalty, and trust from the perspective of an employee.


Cheerio my people, be sure to be kind and understanding. Sometimes mistakes are done because Your people can be tired, need support, learn new skills. There should be no judgment when you as a leader do mistakes too.

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