Failure Tolerant Leader

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  • Topic: Failure, The Mistake, Reliability engineering
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  • Published : February 24, 2011
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The Failure-Tolerant Leader

Based on “The Failure-Tolerant Leader” by Richard Farson and Ralph Keys, HBR, August 2002, pp.64-71; which won the McKinsey Awards for 2002.

Uniting Nations by Learning Together

Executives know that failure is an integral part of innovation.

But how do they encourage the right kinds of mistakes?

Uniting Nations by Learning Together

“The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” Tom Watson, IBM

Uniting Nations by Learning Together

• More and more executives understand that failure is a prerequisite to innovation.

• If it’s not willing to encourage risk taking and learn from subsequent mistakes, organizations cannot make breakthroughs.

• Organizations launch two or more projects with the same goal, sending teams in different directions simultaneously.

• This approach called “simultaneous management” creates the potential for a healthy crossfertilization of new ideas and techniques.

• While organizations are beginning to accept the value of failure in the abstract – at the level of corporate policies, processes and practices – it’s an entirely different matter at the personal level.

• Everyone hates to fail. • There is fear of embarrassment and loss of esteem and stature.

• Robert Shapiro at Monsanto explained to his employees that every product and project was an experiment and they fail only if their experiment was halfhearted, careless efforts with poor results. • But a deliberate, wellthought-out effort that didn’t succeed was not only excusable but worthwhile.

• Such an approach to mistake making is characteristics of people known as “failuretolerant leaders”.

Failure-Tolerant Leaders
• Executives who through their words and action, help overcome their fear of failure and create a culture of intelligent risk-taking. Break down the social and bureaucratic barriers that separate them from their followers. Engage at the personal level with the people they lead. • Avoid given either praise or criticisms, preferring to take non-judgmental, analytical posture as they interact with their staff. Openly admit their own mistakes rather than covering them up or shifting blame. Try to root out the destructive competitiveness built into most organizations.

Failure-Tolerant Leaders
• Push people to see beyond simplistic, traditional definitions of failure.

• They know that as long as someone views failure as the opposite of success rather than its complement, that person will never be able to take the risks necessary for innovation.

Move Beyond Success and Failure

Uniting Nations by Learning Together

All failures are not created equal!

Uniting Nations by Learning Together

Managing for failures
• Executives are more engaged not less. • It does not mean abandoning supervision, quality control or respect for sound practices. • Failure-tolerant leaders identify excusable mistakes and approach them as outcomes to be examined, understood and built upon.

They ask simple questions when the project fall short of its goals. • Was it designed conscientiously or was it carelessly organized? • Could the failure be prevented with more thorough research or consultation? • Was it a collaborative process? • Did it remain true to its goals, or did it appear to be driven solely by personal interest? • Was the projection of risks, costs and timing honest or deceptive? • Were the same mistakes made repeatedly?

Distinguishing between excusable and inexcusable mistakes offers two benefits 1. Gives managers a tool to build a non- punitive environment for mistake making while allowing them to encourage thoughtfully pursued projects that, should they fail, will yield productive mistakes. 2. Allows managers to non judgmentally promote the sort of productive mistake making that is the basis for learning.

Success can be approached in the same way.
• Success can be approached in the same way as failures. • A...
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