Gifts Leaders Have to Give: Freedom to Fail & Credit for Success

Being a gift-giving leader can be so rewarding, both for the giver and the receiver.  Two more gifts we can give include the freedom to fail and credit for success.  In this, the second in our four-part series, let’s start by looking at the freedom to fail.

Freedom to Fail.

Failure is not something we aspire to, but good leaders recognize there is value in failing.  There is also value in experiencing failure first-hand, rather than simply learning from the mistakes of others.  A good leader is one who allows space for a certain amount of failure among those they lead.  For obvious reasons, boundaries must be set in terms of the extent of failure allowed or permissible.  No good or wise leader would allow failure that would be permanent, catastrophic to the person or the organization, or cause physical harm.  Helping people know and understand the boundaries is critical to allowing space for failure.

Giving people the chance to fail is not cavalier, but there are risks associated to giving space for failure.  One of the keys to giving the freedom to fail is helping those we lead understand some of the risks they are taking in the process.  That is not to say we try to talk them out of their intended actions, but we can help them think through, with outside perspective, what risks are at play and what likely outcomes or consequences could happen.  Often those outcomes are not assured or guaranteed, but are rather a result of the choices people make combined with complex sets of circumstances that can affect the result.

We can also help our people learn how to respond to failure.  Failure does not define us, even though it might affect us.  We are not our failures.  Those we lead need to understand the same.  A third key is to intentionally learn from failures.  We would be fools to ignore the opportunity to learn from things that did not go as planned.

One of the benefits to giving some freedom to fail is the opportunity to find new and better ways to do things.  As leaders it can be tempting to believe we know the best way.  Sometimes those we lead end up with great ideas that improve how things get done, and being given the chance to try is empowering to them.  Another benefit is a deeper learning for the individual and perhaps for the organization, as well as a stronger sense of ownership for those allowed to implement their own new and different ideas.

Credit for Success.

Somewhat connected to the freedom to fail is another gift we can give: credit.  When someone succeeds, or even when they fail and learn from it or recover well, credit is due.  A good leader knows when to give credit.  Success and learning are rarely an individual result but rather the effect of a team or group effort.  Leaders recognize the input toward that success from the various team members.

Giving credit can be a tricky thing, though.  Some people don’t prefer to be singled out for attention, but rather would love to see the group recognized for their efforts.  There are others who thrive on knowing their individual contribution is seen and publicly acknowledged.  Knowing those you lead and their styles can be very helpful when it comes to giving credit.

One of the keys to giving credit is sincerity.  People are smart and know when you are not being genuine in giving credit.  This therefore requires us to be specific about our accolades.  Telling someone “You’re the best ever!” might sound nice, but people know they are not truly the best ever.  Be specific and genuine in what you are giving credit for.  Also, be generous and err toward giving others credit rather than taking it for yourself.  Leaders who are generous with giving credit to their team often reap the reward of team members who equally give credit for good leadership.

Take a look around at your team.  Who needs the gift of the freedom to fail?  How can you guide them in a way that allows for some risk, but freedom to try?  What about giving credit?  Is there someone on your team who needs to be recognized for a job well done?  Maybe the whole team?  Be generous and give credit where it is due.

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