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Reruns

Do you ever, at times, feel like you’re living a rerun of your life? Do you find yourself learning the same lesson over and over again, in a slightly different way? Hopefully you’re a better student of life than I am, but I’m guessing that I am not alone.

Almost a year ago, I wrote about how I struggled to learn the value of failure as a means to growth through the Design Thinking process (read the original post). Over the past year, I’ve come to not only believe it myself, but I teach others that failing forward by showing imperfect work and soliciting feedback will lead to greater results in the end. It was a great lesson learned then, and I’ve been so much more open to showing unfinished ideas to my colleagues

Last week, I was invited to help coach several teams through Design Thinking projects. Unfortunately with one of my teams, I felt like I was hitting my head against a wall. At the end of the session day, they were scheduled to show their idea to another group for feedback, but they had nothing to show. They had decided to use their time to arrive at a solution and weren’t following the process. They didn’t seem to fully understand what we were asking them to do and frankly, they didn’t seem to care.

Out of frustration, I went to my mentor to solicit his help. He said something that stopped me in my tracks. He confidently and optimistically said, “Let them fail, and they will fail. But they’ll learn something from it and hopefully do better next time.” It was liked I got punched in the brain. There it was again. Failure. I wasn’t ok with my team failing, even in a very safe environment with little at risk. If they failed at the task, then I felt like I failed them as their group leader.

I had learned the lesson about embracing failure in my own work, but it hadn’t extended to embracing failure in the people I lead. As their leader, I have some basic responsibilities of teaching them and guiding them to be successful, but I also need to be willing to step back and recognize that what might be best for them is to let them do their way, even if I know that it will fail. In the end, they walked away with new insights and some good ideas, even if they didn’t get there my way. Allowing my team to learn the hard way from their mistakes was more powerful than if they had just given in and done things my way.

Are you willing to allow those you lead to fail safely? Are you willing to be there to help them back up and get better next time? Or are you more concerned about how their failure might reflect on you?