Good Managers Know About The Power Of Failure

Managers know that failures are not to be hidden
Managers know that failures are not to be hidden
Image Credit: Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Becoming a successful manager is a difficult enough thing to accomplish. So why would we want to jeopardize it once we achieve it? But research says we unwittingly do just that when we withhold or try to bury one thing about ourselves in particular – our failures. Yes, you heard me correctly – we’re supposed to tell people about the things that we’ve done wrong and the mistakes that we’ve made. This is not an easy thing for any of us to do, but it turns out that in order to be a good manager it is something that we do need to do.

Talking About Failures

Managers need to realize that if we fail to use our manager skills to share how we’ve failed (and spend too much time talking about our accomplishments) then what is going to happen is that we are going to trigger something decidedly not good in peers that researchers call “malicious envy.” When this happen, it creates dysfunctional behavior as peers seek to tear down and undermine the successful manager. It also leads employees to behave less cooperatively and disrupts a sense of teamwork.

The good news for us managers who have failed in the past is that research shows that measured admiration for managers doesn’t decline when a team learns of a manager’s failures. In fact, when team members hear a manager talking about their mistakes, it can induce “benign envy” where the team member feels that the manager deserves their success, and, in turn, they feel inspired to improve their own performance.

Managers need to realize that if you’re highly successful, your achievements are obvious. It’s more novel and inspiring for others to learn about your mistakes. Managers are trying to chip away at the resentment that comes with envy and move teams toward admiration instead. One way to do that is to acknowledge your struggles or shortcomings.

The Best Times To Talk About Your Failures

All managers want to be admired by their teams. One of the ways that we can make this happen is by sharing our failures with our teams. However, we need to pick the time that we choose to share these failures carefully. Here are three different times that would be good times to have this type of discussion with your team.

Team Building Exercise

When you are using your manager training to be the leader of a team building exercise with your team, you have a unique opportunity to let your guard down and share a story of failure with your team. When you do this, you may discover that not only was it a way to show vulnerability, it was cathartic and even enjoyable. You can’t help but view your past foibles with a bit of humor and good-natured self-deprecation. It creates a commonality with your team, as we’ve all “been there.”

Public Forums

I’m pretty sure that we all know how this goes by now: the leader gets up in front of the troops in a townhall update type meeting and, with good intentions, pounds home his or her foolproof strategies. It’s topped with a heap of positive highlights and a sprinkle of acknowledgment where “we all need to do better.” As managers we need to understand that this represents a missed opportunity for the manager to show vulnerability and admit personal mistakes along the way. Doing so illustrates that it’s OK to make mistakes (as long as you learn from them) and that we’re all in this together. It inspires your team to want to do better themselves.

Openly Celebrate Failure

Managers know that failures happen. If they try to hide them, then the word will eventually get out. A different approach to dealing with failures is instead to take the time to celebrate them. This is almost like hosting a “failure party”. What a manager wants their organization to do is to take the time to acknowledge an epic failure and along with it the herculean effort that went into it and what valuable lessons came out of the instance. In these celebrations, managers take the chance to draw correlations to their own past struggles. It’s by doing this that you can share the failure with your team and everyone can grow from it.

What All Of This Means For You

As managers, what we really like to talk about is our successes. However, it turns out that if we really want to create a tight bond with our team, what we need to be willing to do is to spend time talking about our failures. This is not an easy thing to do for most of us.

It turns out that if we are not willing to talk about our failures and instead spend too much time talking about our successes, then we’ll cause the members of our team to start to develop “malicious envy” because of our successes. What we need to realize is that when we do talk about our failures, it does not cause our teams to think less of us. We want our teams to respect us and its by talking about our failures that we can make this happen. We need to be able to pick the right times to talk about our failures. Team building exercises provide a great way for managers to express their failures and become more vulnerable. Public forums can also provide a way for a manager to be open about past failures. Some companies even go so far as having failure celebrations in order to allow everyone to understand the failure and why it happened.

As managers, there are two sides to our careers. One side consists of all of the successes that we’ve had. The other side is made up of our failures. We need to be strong enough to not hide from our failures and understand that we need to share them with our teams. By sharing the times that we came up short, we’ll be able to gain the respect of our teams and we’ll be able to develop closer ties to them.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that there are any types of failures that a manager should not share with their team?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As managers we are always looking for way to use our manager skills to get more out of our teams. What we’ve been told is that we can do this if we can come up with a way to boost their innovation. It may sound easy, but it isn’t. What managers need to do is to find ways that they can revamp their business processes. This is going to require a radical rethinking of our business’ strategy and processes: how we interact with our customers, how they drive operational excellence and how we approach innovation. This is going to require that managers decide which technologies to use as the foundation of their transformation. Just in case you were wondering, there is no manager training for this kind of change.

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