Leadership on Edge

Nobody ever learned anything new doing the same things they’ve always done. Nobody ever forged new paths being comfortable. Remember, fear is good. Fear drives us to succeed. Being afraid to do something is what makes doing it worthwhile. Author Unknown.

Executives, like athletes, face daily decisions that add up to whether they succeed or not. Without the courage to take risks, few would achieve high levels of success. While most executives believe that risk-taking is good, they often communicate that failure is bad. This dichotomy confuses employees. Think about how project results are reviewed in your organization. Do you emphasize what worked and what can be learned from missteps or do you focus on what went wrong and blame someone for mistakes? When debriefs, after-action-reviews and postmortems focus on the negative, even the most courageous leaders learn how to “play it safe,” and become risk-adverse. Employees often vow to, “…never stick my neck out again.”

In a recent Harvard Business Review article (Strategies for Learning from Failure, Amy C. Edmondson, April 2011), when leaders were asked to estimate how many mistakes were actually “blameworthy” or intentional, they reported single digits of 2% to 5%. Yet when asked, “how many are treated as blameworthy, they say (after a pause or a laugh) 70% to 90%.” Consider the consequences. Employees begin to:

– Report fewer mistakes.

– Miss out on learning from what went wrong.

– Hesitate to experiment with new ideas.

– Play it safe.

– Devalue “new,” creative opportunities.

For tips on ways to build courageous leadership and establish an environment for wise risk-taking and innovation, write to Andrea Brown at andreab@innolectinc.com.

The Innolect Team

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