There must be 20 or more TED talks that address the value of failure. Lots of books and articles take the same path. All point out the benefits of testing our limits and learning to take risks as a way of growing as entrepreneurs. We are encouraged not to be afraid of failure. We are taught to embrace and celebrate failure. In Silicon Valley the word is to “fail fast.”
The good news is we are removing the stigma of taking calculated risks and failing at a venture despite hard work and effort. The bad news is we are more often today cruising into situations where we regard failure as one of the probable outcomes and accepting it before we have really exhausted all efforts.
In my review of articles and case studies of situations that resulted in failure, a common scenario seems to be that signs of failure began to appear early on and were unheeded as if time by itself would provide a better outcome. The situation may be particularly exacerbated when there are extraordinary consequences in the balance and “failure is not an option.” Regardless of the scenario, the original trajectory and final outcome will depend on the attitude and leadership skills of the person in charge — the one accountable for the success and how they were able to inspire their people. Time and again it has been proven that our ability to motivate people in times of stress will determine our success as a leader.
Here is one perspective that I believe may help you to inspire your people in the face of steep odds that was taught to me by a fellow naval officer that I served with. He had had a previous junior officer tour on a ship whose captain, Elmo Zumwalt, had gone on to become the Navy’s youngest 4-star Chief of Naval Operations. My friend confided with pride that Zumwalt’s strength in working with his officers, especially on the ship’s bridge during stressful maneuvering operations, was allowing them to take the situation as far as possible until Zumwalt knew he had to step in to take over before the point of failure. In accordance with the Nautical Rules of Road, this point is deemed “in extremis” and essentially means your actions alone will not avoid a collision and disaster. You will have to rely on the opposing ship’s ability to assess the situation and take action as well to avoid the collision. In other words, your fate is not entirely in your hands — never a guarantee of success. Zumwalt’s forte was to step in just before you put your ship in extremis.
Using this terminology, as leaders, it is incumbent upon us to allow our reports to express their creativity and initiative up to the point where you have to step in before the project reaches extremis and heads down the slippery slope to failure. How can you do this without micro-managing?
First, you must develop confidence in your own abilities and implement the principles we teach leaders at Academy Leadership that keep their people and projects out of extremis:
Jenny Callison - Feb 26, 2021
Christina Haley O'Neal - Feb 26, 2021
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