Getting to grips with failure is a must if you want to lead your team out of its comfort zone and into new growth areas.

By Jenny Williams

No one wants the title CFO (Chief Failure Officer), nor the responsibility of leading your team or your business towards failure.

But there's no getting around the fact that failure is important.

As leaders, we need to understand the role it plays and be comfortable with it. We don't have to like it, or even include it in our job description, but we do need to understand its contribution towards the team's success.

Given that pursuing growth can lead you and your business into risky territory, far outside your usual comfort zone, becoming au fait with failure is crucial.


1. Understand the role of failure in your own career. 

When you look back at your career when did you fail? What were the reasons for it? What did you learn from it? How did it pave the way for future successes?



2. Start a conversation about failure in the business.

How we talk about failure in an organisation sets the tone for how people react and understand it. If failure is viewed as purely negative, then people are going to play safe and not stretch themselves. Watch the conversations that are happening around failure in your organisation, as these will be unconsciously setting the company's approach. If there is no conversation then start one.

3. Reward the process not just the outcome.

Most organisations do a reasonably good job of rewarding success. However, when you only reward the end goal then you are missing an opportunity. If someone has stepped outside their comfort zone for the first time and the end result was not a success but the process was good, we need to reward that; because that person can refine the process or behaviour and next time it could be successful. If we don’t offer praise or reward, that person will retreat back to their comfort zone.

4. Offer encouragement to get started.

Our fear of failure stops us starting many things. Encourage the team to take the first step and then the next one. When you make the goal about learning, then people are more willing to get started; they are more willing to share what they have learnt, which in turn becomes part of the culture and 'the way we do things round here'.

So, if CFO is part of your job description, how will you lead differently today?

Jenny Williams is an experienced coach and trainer specialising in the marketing and creative industries. She's been a global campaign director for Nokia and has consulted for L’Oreal, Healthwatch, Cambridge University and Mindshire. Check out her website here and follow her on Twitter.