“Beethoven can write music, thank God, because he can’t do anything else!” – Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven was not an impressive musician in his early years. His teachers at school didn’t think a whole lot of him. It wasn’t until his father took control of his education that a young man some had ticketed to failure began to blossom.
Beethoven was fortunate to have someone who believed in him; someone who could see what other so called experts could not. Many people are not so fortunate to have someone who will stick with them and encourage them cultivate their potential, even after they have failed.
Many leaders give lip service to embracing failure. They say they encourage people to “think outside the box” and “get out of your comfort zone.” All too often, what they really mean is “go ahead and take a chance – just make sure that you succeed.” In many cases, when failure occurs, people responsible never get another chance to show what they can do. That creates a risk adverse culture which instills fear in team members and stifles innovation and creativity.
Leaders should use failure to their advantage. Failure represents a fabulous teaching experience that, if utilized properly can do more to help you team members grow and prosper than any success they may enjoy. Here are four things to keep in mind when building a culture that truly embraces failure:
- Give your team freedom to fail. One of the many things I loved about my mother is that she intentionally left me alone to make a lot of my own mistakes. She stepped in when she needed to, but for the most part, I had the freedom to screw things up – which I did quite well, thank you very much! The lessons I learned from my mistakes served as the foundation of life-learning from which I have benefitted greatly. Resist the temptation to intervene. Even when mistakes are made, your team will learn much more than if you simply tell them what to do;
- Help them get back up. Failure is tough to accept, especially when employees feel they may have let the team and/or the boss down. Be the one to extend a hand to them and help them get back on their feet and headed in the right direction;
- Stress the learning experience. Every mistake that is made represents a golden opportunity for a teachable moment. I had a boss that always asked. “What have we learned today?” I heard it so often it used to drive me nuts. Today, I appreciate that focus; and
- Admit your own failures. This makes you real and does more to build credibility and trust on your team than just about anything else you can do. You’re not perfect, and your team knows that. Your willingness to be real with them will help them be honest with you and themselves.
Failure isn’t pleasant at the time it occurs, however if you are willing to leverage the learning opportunity it creates, failure can become beautiful music for everyone on your team.