This article is found in the Betenbough Companies Leader’s Guide.
One of the most profound and perplexing pieces of advice Rick has ever given me is “Sometimes you have to let people make the wrong decision.” He was actually saying a couple of things in that statement (including tactfully hinting that I might not always be right), but he also really did mean in certain situations, the best course of action is to allow someone to make the wrong decision.
Bob Smithson, a foundational leader in our company, explained it this way: when a team member is pedaling down the road and we see they’re about to make the wrong turn, sometimes we let them make that turn, and see the road ends, even if they skin up their knees a little. Now Bob was quick to add a disclaimer that we should only do that in situations that don’t have a long-term impact or harm a customer experience. Some say it this way: “You will learn more from losing than you ever will from winning.” T.D. Jakes explains that baby eagles don’t learn to fly by flying – they learn by falling. At the right time, their parents kick them out of the nest on a high cliff. They’re not trying to learn to fly as much as they’re simply trying not to die! They flap, fall, flap, fall, flap, fall, flap … flap … and fly!
Our natural tendency can be to swing in to rescue someone too quickly, but often what we’re really doing is denying them a learning opportunity. This really isn’t too different than raising kids. Dr. Brené Brown explains, “Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.”
Be cautious to not over criticize your team’s failures, but instead focus on and celebrate what you learned. Think about the size of a car’s windshield compared to the rearview mirror. When you’re driving you look straight ahead through a huge windshield, and you may occasionally check what is behind you in the rearview mirror. The amount of time you spend looking back at the past should be in similar proportion.
Many of the most innovative Silicon Valley companies celebrate failure and encourage people to “Fail fast, fail early, and fail often.” That may sound counterintuitive, but if you look at several of the recent trends in innovation – everything from rapid prototyping to releasing early beta versions of products – they’re all about making rapid, iterative adjustments that uncover tiny failures and then quickly correct them. Small failures are okay, as long as they lead to future success. These companies even ask job candidates about their failures in interviews, because they’re trying to find people who’ve experienced repeated failure and show a propensity to quickly learn from it and adapt, rather than dwell on the failure or look to place blame.
It is up to the leader to create an environment where people feel safe to admit their mistakes and learn from each other. In Good to Great, Jim Collins’ study discovered a pattern in the leaders of the comparison companies that didn’t make the leap to greatness. “Through the study, we found comparison companies where the top leader led with such force or instilled such fear that people worried more about the leader – what he would say, what he would think, what he would do – than they worried about external reality.”
Fundamentally, we aren’t a company that micromanages its people. We can’t hold people responsible for results if we supervise their methods. Leaders should provide their team adequate direction but allow them freedom to roam between established boundaries. Let others make the decisions they are responsible for and avoid overruling decisions that have already been made unless it is absolutely necessary. We must trust our people to not just carry out established processes, but to know when to question or even break the rules. When people are able to make decisions on their own, they’ll start to realize that their efforts really do make a difference.
For more information, check out these related posts by clicking on the pictures below. Also, click HERE for more information on our Kingdom At Work Coaching efforts!