If you want your company to succeed, tell your employees up front: They're going to fail, and when they do, you won't give them a shoulder to cry on.

That's the blunt message New York Times bestselling author Brené Brown delivered at the Inc. 5000 conference in San Antonio on Thursday. Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston whose "The Power of Vulnerability" is the fourth-most viewed TED talk of all time, stressed that leaders need to "onboard people for failure."

"Tell them, 'When you fail, I don't have time to coddle you,'" she said. "'You'll have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back to it.'"

The intention of this approach isn't to be mean; it's about setting the expectation that your employees inevitably will fall short at some point. In the long run, that should help make them stronger workers.

To illustrate her point, Brown drew an analogy to a friend of hers who recently went skydiving for the first time. The friend's instructors prepped her for the jump by having her leap off a ladder and practice landing without injuring herself. Not only did it make her real jump safer, it helped wipe away some of her fear about it. "People who don't know how to land," Brown said, "will do anything to make sure they don't fall."

Letting employees know that failure is part of their job description will give them the freedom to think more creatively, she said. Not doing so could stifle them. "If you haven't established that failure is OK," she said, "don't expect innovation to happen."

That leadership philosophy falls in line with a topic Brown preaches about often: Avoiding the quest for perfectionism, which she referred to on Thursday as a 20-ton shield--a piece of armor that protects us from shame and judgment, but that actually slows us down. 

"Don't trick yourself into believing that perfectionism is excellence," she said. "It's not."  

Published on: Oct 19, 2018