Aug. 12, 2019
Sure, there are probably a lot of things that many leaders have in common, like encouraging their team, calling out the best, and rewarding people for reaching their goals. But while it might seem counterintuitive, there's one thing that all good leaders do to increase their team's performance.
According to Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos, they make it safe to fail. They actually normalize failure.
More specifically, in his most recent letter to shareholders, he said: "If the size of your failures isn't growing, you're not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle."
Or, said another way, if you aren't failing more, you aren't taking big enough chances.
Failure leads to success
Listen, you don't have to be a Jeff Bezos or Amazon fan to see that they probably have some experience in this area. Good leaders learn from other leaders, even if they aren't fans of everything they do. And the lesson here is that failure leads to success.
That's right, leaders inspire their teams to perform better by making it okay to fail.
That doesn't mean they are okay with failure — the goal never is to fail. The goal is to give people the freedom to come up with big ideas without the fear of failure. A company that doesn't allow for the possibility of failure leads to an unsustainable culture of perfectionism and burnout.
On the other hand, a company that makes it safe to try things, even when they fail, ends up fostering the creative process and finds itself learning from the thing that doesn't work.
Partly this is because all big ideas require risk, and people won't take that risk if they're afraid of the consequences of failing. In fact, in the same letter, Bezos said, "a single big winning bet can more than cover the cost of many losers."
If your team is so worried about what will happen to them if they end up with a loser, they'll never take the bets that end up paying off big.
The other reason this is such a fundamental principle is that nothing inspires a team more than knowing the leader has its back. Seriously.
Knowing that your boss is gonna back you up when you take a chance on an idea that may very well end up in a burning heap motivates you to do everything you can to make sure it finds a better outcome.
That's right: knowing it's okay to fail often makes it less likely that you will, because you'll spend less time hedging against the undesirable outcome, and simply devote your energy and resources toward bringing the idea to life.
Failure makes you real
Real people fail at stuff; they just do. Leaders are often tempted to hide their own failures far from the eyes of their team, but acknowledging them makes them real.
Leaders who are willing to be authentic end up inspiring and helping their team to better learn from failure, and transform it into something valuable. And leaders who embrace their team members, even when they fail, foster the kind of loyalty and commitment that drive them to perform at their very best.