Smart Leaders Allow Their Teams to Fail Occasionally | Extraordinary Business

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Take a minute and imagine being in a meeting listening to your team come up with a variety of plans to achieve a goal.  As each team member makes a suggestion, you are silently evaluating their plan for innovation and potential disasters as a smart leader.  Two of the three ideas are good and will probably be effective, but the third plan – the one they all seem excited about – is fraught with hidden challenges that will drive them crazy.  You sit back and ask the team to vote on which idea they will move forward with, knowing they will most likely choose the third option.  And when they pick #3, what will you do?

A smart leader will take a few moments to weigh out the learning opportunity for his team before he speaks and after considering customer and organizational impact, even though it’s almost certain within a few weeks his team will fail miserably and will regret ever moving in that direction.  So, what should a good leader do?  If the effect to the organization and customers is minimal, it could be a great time to let the team learn a few valuable lessons to help them improve and grow as a team (and individually) rather than saving them from their potential failure.

John Hollon goes into more detail about this subject in his article, “Smart Leaders Know That Letting People Fail Can Help Them Improve and Grow.”  According to Hollon, “I have always believed that people need to “fail” if they are to truly grow, and that the greatest and most meaningful learning experiences usually come from those times when things don’t go very well. It’s something every leader should embrace — and they need to make sure they get their teams to embrace it, too.”

I agree with Hollon. Though to be truthful, when I am in that position as a leader, I’ll take a few minutes to offer my wisdom and then let the team make a choice.  Then, if they want to risk the harder path, they are welcome to do so because I know it’s a win-win for both of us in the long-run. Check out Hollon’s article here.

Learning to be comfortable letting your team fail (when circumstances are appropriate) – for the purpose of growth and improvement – is a sure sign of a mature leader.  There are other traits a mature leader will exhibit as well when they effectively lead their team in both good times and difficult ones.  If you desire to be that type of leader, contact us to learn more about our Aepiphanni Ascend Leadership Development program.  Fill out the form below and we’ll be happy to schedule a Coffee & Consult to chat in more detail about how we can help.


Kris Cavanaugh Castro is the People Development Coach at Aepiphanni, the trusted advisor for business leaders who are seeking forward-thinking solutions to help them plan for and navigate through the challenges of business growth.  Kris has over 25 years of coaching, training and mentoring leaders to greater success; and she periodically writes about leadership development and facilitates change management conversations.

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