February 2019 | Nano Tools | Leadership
Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.
Contributor: Greg Shea, Adjunct Professor of Management; Senior Fellow, Center for Leadership and Change Management, The Wharton School.
Learn to use failure as an essential tool for accelerating career success.
Today’s work environment can be described as “permanent whitewater.” Turbulence, change, and disruption are now constants. That means there are many more unknowns than there once were, and almost every decision you make must be based — at least in part — on those unknowns. The chance of being wrong has never been higher. But if you play it safe and never risk failure, you’ll not only never truly succeed, you and your organization could become obsolete as technology and competition change the business landscape.
How you deal with the inevitable setbacks and failures as you take calculated risks can define you as a leader and have a major impact on your career. Leaders who cultivate the ability to recover from failure — quickly and efficiently — have a distinct competitive edge. And leaders who cultivate that ability in the people they lead are the ones that build highly effective teams and long-term loyalty. The following four strategies will help you to do just that.
Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony, famously said, “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. But make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.” He was referring in part to his first invention, an automatic rice cooker whose poor performance doomed it to failure. He analyzed and learned from his mistakes, and his company next developed the transistor radio, which became an international success and made his company a global brand.
The J.M. Huber Corporation uses after-action reviews after every planned project and significant unplanned event. Their AAR discussion centers on what happened, why, and what should be done about it — including a full explanation for any failures. Following the meeting, employees post their learnings to a database and an online after-action report is created, which includes action plans and lessons learned. Other employees around the world can search the database to find AARs on topics related to their work. Employees are motivated to participate with incentives such as the Chairman’s Award for After Action Review (AAR) Excellence, which is given annually to a cross-functional team.
“Hire people who’ve failed at doing something bold,” says Walter Chen, CEO of email-based productivity company iDoneThis, “because they’re the only ones who’ll succeed at something bold.” That’s what Jeff Bezos did when he started Amazon’s grocery delivery service, AmazonFresh. He brought in the team that started a similar company, Webvan, in 2008. Webvan went bankrupt two years after going public. Bezos explained the move to shareholders by stressing that “failure comes part and parcel with invention.”
Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, director of Custom Programs at Wharton Executive Education. Nano Tools for Leaders® is a collaboration between joint sponsors Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management. This collaboration is led by Professors Michael Useem and John Paul MacDuffie.
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