In this excellent blog post Stanford University professor, Robert Sutton, points out that it’s not only critical that leaders forgive failure; it’s also vital that they remember it as well so that the organization can learn from mistakes.
Sutton writes that, “A vital difference between good and bad bosses is that the former consider it their responsibility to surface and learn from past setbacks, errors, and failure. They apply their management skills and dedication to building trust and an atmosphere of psychological safety.”
According to Sutton, many organizations exist in which leaders do not even accept the fact that “failure is a by-product of risk-taking” and, as such, must be forgiven. While the wisdom of forgiving failure sounds obvious, he writes, “…consider how rare it is in large organizations rife with personal ambitions, politics, and scapegoating.
If people perceive that the best way to look good is to make others look bad, then mistakes are seized upon, the venturesome are humiliated, and a climate of fear takes hold. People engage in cover-your-ass behavior, and the game becomes avoiding the finger of blame rather than surfacing, understanding, and learning from failures.”
Have you worked in an organization where such toxic behavior is the norm? If so, did any meaningful innovation occur there? Or was it smothered by the type of behavior described above? Was it possible to take any risk at all or was the fear of the consequences of failure just too overwhelming? Please share your experiences, both with organizations that punished failure and with those that forgave and remembered it.
(By the way, Robert Sutton has just published a new book entitled Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the Best…and Learn from the Worst that might be worth a look.)
Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.