Harvard Business Review

Failure and Leadership. I’m not the only one who find links between these two topics. Harvard Business Review united these two pet themes of mine in an article recently tweeted by Peter Bebb on the RSA’s ‘Glory of Failure’ Ning network I mentioned in the last post.

This article is adapted from their book, ‘Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation’ by Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes. The vibrant anecdotes echoed a lot of my ‘Three Levels of Empowerment’ post especially on the ‘I’ve got your back’ level.

A few of the highlights for me were the following excerpts…

“Failure-tolerant leaders send clear messages to their organizations that constructive mistakes are not only acceptable but worthwhile. Employees feel that they have been given the green light to set out and explore, no longer thinking in terms of success or failure but instead in terms of learning and experience. And that’s the key to coming up with breakthrough products and processes: viewing mistakes for the educational tools they are and as signposts on the road to success.”

“Most of our better presidents, ”observed Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager John Sears, “learned to empathize through suffering personal tragedy or failure.…There is something about losing and coming back from it that burns character into a man’s soul, breeds confidence without arrogance, and makes a man believable when he talks about problems.”

“GM’s Kettering, regarded as second only to Thomas Edison as America’s leading inventor mogul, liked to say that a good research man failed every time but the last one. ’He treats his failures as practice shots, ‘Kettering noted, adding that he himself had been wrong 99.9% of the time. What every educated person needed to learn, he felt, was ‘that it’s not a disgrace to fail, and that you must analyze each failure to find its cause….You must learn how to fail intelligently. Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails forward toward success.’ “

Leaders are fault supporting; Managers are fault neutralising. Both together create a fault tolerant team.