By Kirsten Blakemore Edwards (@KirstenBeMe), MA CPCC, Executive Facilitator at Partners In Leadership

There is a high price that companies pay when leaders deflect blame and point fingers instead of owning mistakes and failures. This behavior from the top compromises morale across a team, even an organization. Employees experience burnout and disengage when they are constantly motivated by fear and stress. Instead, when leaders learn from mistakes and move forward by taking accountability for results, even the ones that we don't like, mistakes transform into opportunities. Here are three principles to lead by to encourage learning quickly and moving ahead more effectively.

1. Fail Fast - The Learning Paradox

Olympic gold medalist Reid Priddy claims that his success today is because of his failures.

This learning paradox doesn't sit well with many organizational leaders. Our Workplace Accountability Study reveals that when it comes to learning from success and failures, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their organizations are not doing this effectively.

In fact, most reward systems encourage the opposite. Organizations may even punish failure, especially if the cost of failure is high.

We learn and innovate when we make mistakes--but only if there's a foundation of positive accountability and trust. The fact that we commonly call a learning experience a "fail" insinuates that someone needs to take accountability, or be punished, for the mistake. This punitive understanding of accountability does not foster a culture of innovation or learning. It fosters the opposite: more finger-pointing and blame games. Positive accountability encourages risk-taking and says it's okay when we make mistakes if we  own them, learn from them, and build better systems as a result.

2. Rebuild Trust in the Face of Failure

Trust can take a hit in the face of failure. People might think that the person who took the risk wasn't capable, smart, or experienced enough to succeed. How leaders handle mistakes either rebuilds the lost trust or tears it down further. Shame can compound the problem, causing a person to deflect the blame on others, resulting in further deterioration of trust.

However, when employees witness a leader taking accountability for mistakes in an open and transparent manner, even asking for feedback to improve their work, they rebuild trust. Leading with vulnerability requires courage; but the payoff for being open and candid when communicating mistakes is a stronger work environment that supports the learning necessary for innovation, breakthroughs, and success.

3. Share Best Practices

One of the most common complaints in organizations today is a lack of effective communication.  When we are busy accomplishing more with less, we tend to put our heads down and "just work."  But this begins to build silos and segregate departments. When we tear down the walls and start to share best practices between departments and people, we innovate new ways to handle our business effectively and productively. 

How to Succeed from Failure

Everybody makes mistakes, which means that everybody gets the chance to learn and grow. Innovation and trust thrive in an environment where shame and blame have no stronghold. A culture that supports "failing fast" and encourages employees to take ownership over mistakes reaps the benefits of better solutions, increased engagement over the results, and unprecedented business results.

Published on: Mar 28, 2018
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