The least engaged workers we have come across often tell us that they feel like they are limited and constricted in their ability to take chances in their work. “Just keep your head down and do your job”, seems to be the implicit message. “It is only the highest levels of leaders who have the freedom to risk. Your job is to be a worker bee.”
But people are not made that way, and this is no way to build a winning culture. The business literature is rife with examples of great leaders who made substantial mistakes early in their careers. Sometimes those mistakes – such as rushing a product to market too early or rushing the wrong product to market – can cause career detours. But in notable examples a young leader had a mentor or leader who acknowledged the mistake but offered a second chance bolstered by hard lessons learned.
When this happens confidence gets built and real innovation can happen.
One of our clients, in a midmanagement position in his late twenties, spearheaded the development and offering of a new service provided by his company. His managers invested capital, time, and attention to make it happen, and he was poised to profit, both professionally and financially.
For a variety of reasons, the service did not gain traction in the marketplace and the company lost both momentum and money.
Our client assumed he would be terminated or, at best, had hit the ceiling in his progress within that company. Quite the contrary.
The company’s president drew him aside, saying “Justin, we believed in what you were putting together and we supported you. Because you were given the reins of the product, your name is attached to its failure and we know that’s tough. But you’re not alone. We still believe in you. Your main task now is to learn why we failed with the new service and help us put steps into place to insure it won’t happen again.”
Immediately after, Justin was given another significant assignment, and over the next decade he rose within the company. He points to both his failure and his leader’s response to it as key components in a career that twenty years later has been characterized by appropriate risks that have paid off more often than not.
What about your team?
Or, first, what about you? Are you taking appropriate risks in your life and career?
Do your team members feel that they have the freedom to take risks?
If not, what could you change in your leadership style to foster a climate of adventure?