The Highlands Company Blog

Leadership, Failure, and the HAB

leadership and failure

Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

If even one of brightest minds of the 20th century was reluctant to admit to failure, is it any wonder failure is so demonized in the workplace?

While the fear of failure may be trenchant in our society, there are signs that trends are changing. A recent article by Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review highlighted three major corporations—Coca Cola, Netflix, and Amazon—that are openly embracing failure as part of their company culture. Rapid change is part of the world in which we live, and people who learn more quickly are better able to adapt to those changes and succeed. What’s the secret to learning? Failure. In Taylor’s words, “If you’re not prepared to fail, you’re not prepared to learn.”

The HAB at Work

As a leader, how do you help foster a culture that encourages risk-taking and is open to growth and learning because team members aren’t paralyzed by the fear of failure?

Here are four practical ways that the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) can help leaders successfully engage with the topic of failure.

  1. Understand your definition of “risky.” The leader needs to know that what feels risky to him or her may not be the same for someone else. If you are frustrated that one of your colleagues is being too timid with new ideas, take time to understand their problem solving style. You may be surprised to learn that what seems risky to them is no big deal to you, and vice versa. The HAB reveals the different ways that people tend to approach conflict and illuminates strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Let go. Literally. Leaders need to be willing to take what may feel like the biggest risk of all and delegate work to their team. Taking the HAB gives team members insight into their strengths so they know what tasks to step into. They are more proactive in taking on certain responsibilities and better equipped to accept delegations when given the wiggle room to utilize their strengths to accomplish them. Even though your employees’ approaches to problems may be different than yours, they can still be successful. By delegating, not only are you taking a risk yourself, you’re also empowering your team members with new responsibilities and new opportunities for growth. Will they fail? Maybe. Will they succeed? Maybe. Will they learn? Absolutely.
  3. Take the risk of letting others know that you don’t know everything. Rather than assume that as a leader you have to have the answer to every question, start thinking about how you can empower your team to develop and grow so they can find the answers. The HAB is an excellent tool for people to learn more about themselves and understand how they can best contribute, as well as where they have room for growth. As the leader, you’ve got to be willing to allow that the knowledge gained by your team may exceed your personal knowledge in different areas.
  4. Gain a common vocabulary. How can you support the development of others if you can’t engage in a dialogue with a shared language about potential talents to leverage and skills to develop? As you work with and develop your employees, you need a shared vocabulary, and the HAB provides that common basis. Once you’ve learned about what makes your employees tick, you can move from making decisions for them to making decisions together. Provided that you are both open to risk and the possibility of failure, you both have a greater chance for success.

These are just a few of the ways the HAB can help teams embrace failure and enhance communication and awareness for leaders. We also offer specialized workshops tailored specifically for leaders as well as customized reports. Learn more about our leadership development tools.