They can’t break anything you can’t fix

When it comes to learning, sometimes you have to learn by trial and error.  As leaders we want to protect ourselves from failure. We want to protect our team from making the same mistakes we made. Something happens when you try to protect them from failure however, you protect them from realizing success.

Think back to a success in your career, one that had you soaring on the feeling of finally getting it right?  Did you get it right the first time you tried? Did you have to try a few times to nail it down?

Edison became famous for saying “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”  I’m sure Edison wouldn’t have minded if someone would have saved him from 9,000 useless lightbulbs, but had he never felt the sting of the “will not work”, the euphoria of, “It’s alive!” just doesn’t give you the same endorphin rush.

There’s sometimes where failure isn’t an option.  Let’s take working with large carnivores for an example. When you’re in the business of touching 300 locks and doors a day that keep a piece of mesh between you and a 300 pound tiger you can’t bat 40%.  That means 60% of your day you got eaten by a tiger.  In a case like this, a great leader defines clear protocols, reevaluates them at every turn, analyzes the process, listens to feedback, makes adjustments, audits for compliance, and when teaching someone new, they do not allow them to learn by trial and error.  They give them a proven formula and then ensure the trainee sticks to it.  Like super glue.

When it comes to training a behavior you sit back and watch.  Offer advice when asked, input if needed, but mostly, hold your tongue.  You let the trainer make some mistakes, and if it goes south you step in and fix it.  Likely, it won’t go south, likely the trainer will flourish and have a behavior that is the pinnacle of their career!

Being a leader is a balance and that balance can be a real struggle.  It’s hard to know when you should let them stumble and when you should step in. Evaluate each individual and each situation and ask yourself (with confidence), “Can I fix it if they break it?” Chances are more often than not, the answer is yes!

Read more about failure here and here.

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