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Leadership Essentials: Acting Decisively and Taking Healthy Risk

Individuals and teams who are afraid to fail rarely accomplish anything big. Bold decisions always come with risk. Great leaders understand this. They embrace change and encourage healthy risk, knowing full well the team will occasionally fail along the way. And instead of punishing failure, great leaders take it in stride and coach the team to learn and grow stronger through it.

This doesn’t mean rewarding or tolerating recklessness. There’s nothing bold about taking unnecessary risk. And it doesn’t mean encouraging failure. No one in their right mind sets out to fail. What it does mean is we reward initiative and healthy risk, even when it leads to failure.

Perspective matters. Human beings can and do learn from failure; the key is to learn the right things. If my take-away from falling on my face is to never take another risk, I’ve learned that all risk is bad. I’ve learned it’s better to play it safe than to be bold, but I haven’t learned much more than that. In fact, I’m worse off than before I failed, and the organization will suffer because of it.

Never reward recklessness. There is nothing courageous about blatantly ignoring real risk. The corollary to this is never punish taking of initiative. Coach. Learn. Grow. But I never want to punish someone for taking initiative if they were responsible in their decision making.

Creating a culture where we learn and grow from failure is crucial to embracing change and continued risk taking. It takes patience and requires a mindset where developing people is a priority and coaching is the norm. It also requires having a healthy perspective on risk and failure. Here’s what processing failure looks like in healthy cultures that are quick to learn from failure:

  1. We take 100% responsibility when we fail (no blame/no excuses)

  2. We don’t gloss over failure (we talk straight about what happened and why)

  3. We focus on solutions and fix any damage done (apologizing when appropriate)

  4. We learn from our successes and mistakes (what will we do differently?)

  5. We apply what we learn and move on (no rumination)

High Performing Teams ultimately get results by taking risk. The important thing is to learn how to navigate risk and coach your team on how to do the same.


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