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5 Steps to Allow Employees to Fail Safely

One of the most important elements of being a strategic leader is allowing your employees to experience failure and learning from their mistakes in an environment where they are encouraged to experiment and take calculated risks.

For some leaders, this concept may have you feeling uneasy even just reading this far. Much of business today operates with little margin for error. Even so, we can’t expect to get the best from talented employees and retain them if we don’t create this type of learning culture. Of course, this doesn’t mean free rein across the organization. That’s where communication and clear expectations come into play upfront.

Whether you are reading this from the lens of an employee or leader, the below tips are structured to be part of a co-creative process that either of you can initiate.

Step 1:

Determine a project or a component of an employee’s role where the risk isn’t significant to the business if a mistake is made. For the employee, this can be a chance to stretch into something new or an opportunity with larger exposure.

Step 2:

Define the boundaries to work within. Allow this to be a two-way conversation with some give and take. Having restrictive guidelines won’t promote creativity or a fail-safe environment.

Step 3:

Discuss the red-flags and trigger points that might arise. Allow the employee to determine when to come to the leader when they can’t navigate a solution on their own. As the leader, refrain from jumping in too soon. For the employee, this is an exercise in practicing critical thinking, a highly-neglected skill that is desperately needed to be fostered in business today.

Step 4:

Decide upfront to embrace the learning moment when a mistake is made. A strategic leader maintains a curious mindset, not a judgmental one. Seek to listen and learn. Allow the employee to walk through the journey, expressing what was missed, lessons learned and how they will approach it differently next time. Accountability in the process and a willingness to continue to move forward more informed is an important outcome from this exercise.

Step 5:

Don’t stop now. Continue to encourage your team to step into opportunities to experiment and take calculated-risk. Talk openly with colleagues about these experiences and the new perspectives that have been gained.

Remember, being a strategic leader means intentionally creating a learning-from-failure culture that builds skill and demonstrates trust in your people to solve problems. That translates into more time for you to think strategically on how to navigate the complexities of moving the business forward. More time to think sounds like a desirable situation to be in as a leader. Are you ready to embrace it?

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