We’ve all heard plenty of buzz about the unexpected upside to “failing.” Failure and setbacks can teach us valuable lessons and help us better understand the systems we occupy. When we mess up or make a wrong move, the results can shine a light into some of the dark corners around us, telling us more about how our industries work, about the people around us, and about ourselves and our own abilities and limitations. “Failing” can show us that we’re better prepared for challenges then we thought. It can also teach us that our preparation is a long way from adequate; the first time you head out on a snowy hike without gloves will probably be the last. Failing illuminates the weak points in our plans and the holes in our parachutes, and once we see them, we can fix them and move on with strength and confidence.
But there’s a gap between knowing this fact and incorporating it into our everyday lives as managers. New managers may be especially likely to struggle with this concept; as an inexperienced first-time leader, you may understand the virtues of failure, in theory. But when the path forks in front of you and you can choose to take a risk or play it safe, most new managers would rather play it safe. If you fall into this category, here are a few reasons to step back and let your teams charge over a cliff now and then.
You can’t hover forever.
If you feel the urge to micromanage and hover over your teams, preventing any form of failure or embarrassment, step back. You’re neglecting your own tasks when you do this, which means you aren’t allowing yourself to expand your own strength and growth. As long as you’re doing their work for them, your teams aren’t learning and neither are you.
This isn’t the ER.
If actual lives are at stake, that’s one thing. But most of us don’t work in the emergency room, and if our teams take a tumble, the consequences may educate more than they harm. Embrace the education; the minor resulting harm can be considered the cost of tuition.
Hard lessons last longer.
A minor scolding or correction from you might sting momentarily, but an actual lost client, failed project or damaged relationship will leave a lasting impression that can help guide decisions far in the future.
Fear of failure means fear of risk.
Nobody enjoys failing — especially not while it’s happening. But if we fear failure too much, we start avoiding any risk or action that could potentially steer us toward it. And that’s just not healthy. Risk should be celebrated and faced with courage, even if it leads your teams down a potentially bumpy road.