What? Did I read this right? Why is an excerpt from a book on leadership wishing me failure in 2019? Simple. Failure can be the leading indicator of future success.
Fail. Grow. Repeat. This is a recipe for success. Henry Ford famously said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” I believe this to be true to my very core.
As a leadership consultant and executive coach, I wouldn’t have a profession was it not for failure. My failures, as well as, the failures of the leaders I strive to develop. The more failure, the more experience gained, and the more lessons learned to improve.
I have worked with organizations where the leadership teams have stayed the same for over 20 years. Studies prove that change is essential for innovation, and innovation makes for a thriving business. Walking in, I know that I will fail at some of my objectives to help a company make structural changes. Change is hard and scary! It fills us with uncertainty and fear of the unknown. More often than not, implementing change in an organization is an uphill battle filled with political landmines.
I have seen several of my clients struggle with this, especially as they try to grow an organization that has become stagnant. They are looking for my help and guidance but don’t know how to pull out the first Jenga block, and if they do, they are afraid that the whole company structure will come crumbling down. Often, they know in their guts, that what worked well for their once-thriving company is not working anymore.
I love sports. I have played and coached sports the majority of my life, so I use a lot of sports analogies when I’m working with executives. I tell struggling leaders that an effective coach must not get too engrossed in the game or they might miss a key substitution, a critical time-out, or the clock may run out before you know it. I tell them a good coach must metaphorically flies above the court to focus on the team as a whole. An effective leader must do the same. When I work with executives, I take that deep breath and tell them why they are failing. I tell them to float above their business and look at the whole court. When a leader can see all the failings happening on the court, then they make the best choices for the team as a whole.
Why are organizations not allowing for failure amongst their leadership teams? Why aren’t they promoting failure? And why are leadership teams not doing the same for their front-line teams? We are so scared to fail, even when we know that 99 percent of the inability to accept failure is the reason for a stagnant business.
So what has specifically gone wrong and how can they fix it? How will allowing failure lead to success? I have found that allowing someone to stay in the exact same position for more than 3 years results in a lack of growth. Those people experience the same thing every day, the problems have become easy to solve, and complacency has set in. It is similar to the basketball player who makes 90% of the team’s free throws. This part of the game has become simple muscle memory, and they can do it blindfolded. But can that same player rebound? If no, can we put them in a position to learn? Can we allow them to fail before they succeed? Yes, we can, and we should do so immediately. The end result is fast growth and better performance. The next step is to pick another skill and repeat.
A leadership team that has been in the same job for 20 plus years may have failed, grown, failed, and grown again in the early days of the organization, but slowly these failures became few and far between. The players have committed their performance to muscle memory. If we reviewed their overall contributions, we would find that they turn in the same performance every year. They can maintain the status quo, but you cannot count on them for rapid growth and innovation.
How do we change that? We need to move folks around. They need to try different positions within the organization’s ecosystem. They need to fail at new skills, grow from the lessons learned while failing, and repeat the process until more and more skills are perfected. This needs to be a strategy that leaders are willing to implement. New positions = new failures. Failures = new growth.
If after 20 years some of your leaders are too stuck in their ways, accept that failure and move them out of the organization. You may even have to sacrifice one or two individuals for the greater good, and that’s ok.
We need to develop a corporate culture where it is safe to fail. This is critically important to the new millennials we are moving into leadership roles. They will thrive in safe environments where their failures turn to success. The key is to coach them through the lessons learned so they can grow from them in real-time and move on to their next failures.
So fail on leaders. Just make sure you are growing from the lessons learned and repeating the process every day.
Shelley Dunagan: Shelley Dunagan is a sought-after executive coach, President of Sell X Sell, a performance accelerator consultancy, and the President of The Dunagan Group, where she solves complex performance issues for multi-billion dollar corporate clients across the globe. Her new book, Hashtags Aren’t Enough: A Girlfriends Guide To Conquering The Leadership Crisis, is set to be released in January 2019.