By H. E. James, MBA
Thomas Edison said it right when he said this about failure: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” While many people debate his genius compared to contemporary Nicola Tesla, Edison’s point about failure is a great one. The connotation of failure often leads managers and leadership to teach employees that failure is not an option.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Think back to when you were a kid and you failed at something at school. It may have been a paper in class, or a project in a lab. Perhaps it was not hitting a home run for your baseball team. Think about how your parents, teacher, or coach reacted to those failures. If the reaction was negative, just imagine how your employees feel if management is reacting similarly.
If you look at a survey of some of the top leadership techniques of today, they all come down to one thing: boosting employee performance by keeping them engaged. Managers who listen rather than dominate the conversation are more likely to encourage employees to share, especially if they’ve made a mistake or a project has gone awry.
That same project that went awry can also be turned into a success during its next iteration. Instead of reacting negatively to a failure in product development, encourage management to focus on positive feedback. Not only will this encourage innovation of Edison- and Tesla-like proportions, but it will go a long way to reducing workplace stress, leading to happier employees.
Turns Managers into Leaders
Employees sign papers in Human Resources all the time to become managers. Yet there’s much more to being called a leader. Not every manager deserves the title, but the ones who do are the ones who are going to recognize their own vulnerabilities and be willing to share them.
They encourage others to share their vulnerabilities by being better listeners, one of the greatest ways to develop leadership skills. Employees are often afraid to admit to failure because they fear all that will be heard is, “I failed,” or, “I made a mistake,” when there’s often more to the story.
A leader who understands the potential in a failure will not stop at, “I failed,” but will keep an open mind and open ears. As more employees learn this leader is open to the opportunities afforded by failure, the more open they will be with other important things.
Leads to Growth
Innovative ideas are how businesses grow, and employees have great ideas all the time. If their leaders have taught them that failures are a negative, they aren’t going to share these ideas. Why? Because not all great ideas are great the first time.
Like Edison, it took James Dyson, creator of the Dual Cyclone vacuum, 5126 versions before he got it right. As a result of this endeavor, Dyson extols the virtues of failure as a means to take risk in order to grow.
The creative process inherently involves failure. As Dyson points out, creativity goes out the window if your first try ends in success. Creative leaders will encourage their employees’ to innovate, which will only lead to growth. This growth will be the organization’s as well as the employees’ own personal growth.
Of course, all this talk of failure comes with a caveat or two. Too much failure, and you may end up with employees who don’t care about their performance. Instead, leadership should teach employees not to be discouraged by failure. A failure can be the moment for an epiphany rather than a rebuke.