Every once in a while, you'll assign a project to an employee or colleague and about halfway through, the person will start to fail. Perhaps the project was above his or her capability. Or maybe the person lost interest in the project or was distracted. Regardless, the impact is major.

You have to jump in before things crash. If you let it all fall down, you'll not only suffer the damage from the failure, but you'll lose the respect of the team and the self-esteem of a good team member.

In my companies, I always try to give my employees room to fail safely. I make sure there are safety nets and redundancy in the process so nothing completely falls apart before someone can jump in to support the effort. This way, people can take risks more comfortably and get used to collaborating with the team.

If a project does fall apart in the middle, I take the employee aside and have a heart-to-heart talk. Once I diagnose the issue, I encourage the employee to step up and solve the problems. If the person can't rise to the challenge, I bring the team in to support the effort and, if necessary, take over. I do my best to preserve the employee's ego, but there is always a point at which you have to put the company before the individual.  Determining that point and taking necessary if uncomfortable action is actually what defines a great leader.

Here are additional insights from my Inc. colleagues.

Lead the employee through the tough part.

This issue gets to the difference between great leaders and mere managers. Is there a way to give the person additional support to enable him or her to achieve the goal? If you can't, admit your mistake, but if you can, a great leader would see this for the opportunity it can become. The difference is whether you're concerned only about the task or also about the chance to improve your team member's skills and confidence. To paraphrase T.E. Lawrence, better your trusted person do it tolerably (and learn) than you do it perfectly for them. Bill Murphy Jr.--DC Bill

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Don't let people stretch too far.

As a leader, when you delegate a task to an employee, it's important that you don't give that person something that he or she is incapable of doing well--or at all. Stretching capabilities a bit is OK, but not so much that you set the person up for failure. That said, when an employee is floundering on a task that you've assigned, provide him or her with the support needed to be successful. Does someone need extra resources, or maybe a little more training in some aspect of the project? If so, provide it. Or assign other employees to help out. Be sure to let your employee know that you still support him or her, and that you will do everything possible to ensure that the project is a success. --The Management Guy

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