“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford
What cripples people from becoming the leader they want to be is how they deal with failure. First, their own mistakes and failures but most importantly, the mistakes and failures of others.
That’s why people won’t follow a leader who doesn’t empower others to fail forward. When failure builds a culture of fear in your team, your team won’t have your back when the time comes and their best will never be good enough.
Nobody wants to make mistakes. Nobody really enjoys addressing failure. But nobody wants to work with a leader who relegates mistakes and failure to the end of the line, so you have to navigate people through failure to the next thing.
Failing forward is more than having a good attitude about your mistakes and a step beyond being will to take calculated risks. Failing forward is the ability to get back up after you’ve been knocked down, learn from your mistake, and move forward in a better direction. Failing forward is a culture that inhabits the atmosphere around great leaders.
Understanding this principle of failing forward in your own life dramatically influences how you see failure in the lives of others, and how you lead them to greater growth and opportunity.
Henry Ford was an apprentice in failure. He failed over and over again, in tiny and enormous endeavors. But the collection of learnings from those failures created a wealth of knowledge not just about his primary goal, but also about the people he would rely on to help him achieve it. Every mistake made him smarter.
A leader must always be able to look at the people around themselves to accurately see all the strengths, possibilities and potential, then be prepared to invest in allowing them to make mistakes also. A great leader will create an environment where a mistake or failure is seen as an opportunity. They will remove shame and guilt, instead applying an almost rabbinic, Platoic skill in investigating the learnings through examination and reflection. They offering absolution through reattempting, restoring and recreating opportunities to execute differently. Failure is not an opportunity to quit, it is firm insistence that we must keep going – as we have not yet uncovered the mastery or mystery of a thing.
Mistakes (recoverable) and failure (unrecoverable) are so vital and necessary to growing and being a well-rounded person that it’s actually unhealthy when we live in fear of making mistakes.
A good leader will learn the balance of mistakes and failure that suits the group they are working with. Mistakes are recoverable learning opportunities, but too many mistakes can be considered failure. Failure is not optimal, but as a leader you should carefully choose the steps you take before simply swooping in to ‘rescue’ a failure mid-drop.
There are finite capabilities in this life. The only way to grow is to have an awareness of our incompleteness – to understand the current limitations you have and then set realistic goals to trump them. Even then, some limitations are not worth trying to supersede.
Without grace, without the patience and presence of mind to allow others and yourself to fail forward – you’ll find a people who are full of mistake-making genes, unwillingly to travel with or follow a leader who does not accept failure or reframe it as the opportunity it is.