Good leaders allow good employees to make mistakes

24th June 2019

We all make mistakes. Every one of us. It doesn’t matter how talented and well trained we are – or how passionate and motivated.

What does matter though is this: businesses with a high-performing and positive learning culture – or those aspiring to achieve it – allow mistakes. These enable transformational change across the whole business, often globally.

In fact, according to some of the most successful people on the planet, experience is a great, though sometimes painful, teacher and ‘the occasional blunder’ is one of the foundations of a world-class workforce. Take a handful of these – Richard Branson, Sara Blakely and Bill Gates – all three are strong advocates that ‘failure is key to success’.

Good business leaders understand that by removing the punitive aspect of making a mistake, it goes a long way to creating a more open, trustworthy and collaborative environment.

But they understand this too. When mistakes are openly acknowledged, put right, explored – and measures put in place to make sure the same mistake will never be repeated – they can help to advance performance and increase innovation. They’re the stepping-stones to moving people from their natural comfort zone to their growing zone. That’s because it leads to more engaged, empowered and productive teams. Passionate employees will always go the extra mile and then some.

However, we don’t want to inadvertently create a working environment that’s a ‘free-for-all’ where people become cavalier and, where’s there’s never any accountability. There are times when there is no margin for error and perfection needs to be a priority. But teams do need to feel comfortable learning from their mistakes. They need to be encouraged to share the outcomes and the learning, as they’ll inevitably relate to the wider company which can benefit from these errors and experiences.

Your organisational success is driven by people. Your people. Effective leaders, therefore, must be able to demonstrate that they are strong enough and brave enough to be accountable for their own actions, outcomes and their teams. So, as a business leader, what are you modelling to those around you when you make a mistake? Your team will be watching and learning. And what they see and hear – and how you make them feel – will affect their relationship with you. And, more importantly, the level of trust and respect they hold for you.

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