“I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Trevor wanted his people to be pillars of innovation and creativity. When he came to me for coaching around innovation, he mentioned how fearful his team was in taking risks and possibly touching failure. I asked him, “What are you doing to celebrate failures?” Like many leaders, he had no answer. We then looked at some fun ways that corporate leaders have learned to take their failures and celebrate them. In doing so, they help their most creative people to develop exciting new ideas.
Celebrating your failures is just as important as celebrating your success. Here’s some ideas for you.
- Hold an Idea Funeral
Holding an idea funeral is a fun way to learn from the failure as a group, as Annabel Acton says in an Inc. article. Take turns eulogizing the idea or project you’re “burying,” sharing lessons learned. Focus on its merits as well as the reasons it ultimately failed. This creates a culture of trying out new ideas and learning from the results. “Startup funerals” have taken off as well, as budding entrepreneurs are increasingly embracing failure as a stepping-stone to success.
- Create a Fail Wall
The finance website NerdWallet creates a “Fail Wall” where mistakes are posted, emphasizing that everyone fails and honoring outside-the-box thinking. Why not set up a “Fail Wall” in your own workplace? Give it a brightly colored banner and encourage people to write down their failures on post-it notes and stick them on the wall.
- Give a Heroic Failure award
Advertising company Grey gives a “Heroic Failure” award to employees who take ambitious risks and go down in flames. Giving this award changes the culture of feeling shame or humiliation if a risk doesn’t pan out. Rather than letting failure become part of people’s identity, they become branded as risk-takers.
- Hold a “F— Up Night”
In a popular social meetup event called “F— Up Nights,” a handful of entrepreneurs tell their stories about failure, followed by a Q&A session. These events been held in over 250 cities across 80 countries. Hold a similar event with your own people, encouraging everyone to take a turn at the mic. If it’s a hit, hold a series of them so everyone gets time to share and ask questions. Find a fun way to host the event outside of the office, like reserving a large room at a restaurant or finding a community space that hosts performances.
- Record What You’ve Tried
Keep a track record of failures, with detailed information about what people tried. Just as a failed cancer drug proved incredibly useful for managing the AIDS virus, a past failure can become a wild success in a different context. Take notes on why the idea failed—it might succeed under the right conditions, or if certain aspects of it are revamped.
It’s most fitting to celebrate failures related to innovation, rather than execution, Harvard Business Review points out. You want to celebrate the failures that show you took a leap. If someone failed to follow through on a task, you obviously won’t want to throw a party. If she gave her all in a new project and it just didn’t achieve the desired results, that’s different. Celebrating those kinds of failures will help your people learn to fail gracefully, growing from the experience.
Most importantly, stop thinking—and talking—in terms of “win/lose.” When you eliminate the shame around failure, and show it’s okay to be vulnerable, people can talk about it. That means they can learn from it, finding the germ of a great idea within it.
Want more advice on boosting creativity and innovation in your company? Hire leadership coach Joel Garfinkle so he can help you develop and implement ideas that get results.
“The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”
Tom had been working as a manager for almost a year. He was good at evaluating people’s performance, pointing out areas for improvement, and saying “thank you” often. To him, those were the things that a good boss did.
However, when Tom sat down with his mentor to talk about his progress, his mentor told him that those things are just the tip of the iceberg. “One of the hallmark qualities of a great boss is that he’s always striving to improve,” said his mentor. “Here are 5 tips on how to become a better boss. You’ll be the kind of boss who inspires tremendous loyalty, innovation, and respect from his people.”
- Inspires a Shared Vision
Hone your understanding of your organization’s vision. Talking in-depth about vision with company leaders will give you a better grasp of it. Even if you’re not a high-level leader, understanding how your department fits into the big picture will help you and your people excel. Then instill the vision in your people. At the beginning of a meeting, talk about how the project you’re presenting furthers the organization’s vision and mission. People will have a stronger grasp of their importance, and in turn, greater motivation, when they share the vision and goals.
- Be a Great PR Agent
To be a better boss, show how much you care about your people’s success. Sing your people’s praises in front of colleagues and superiors. This shows you’re committed to their advancement. Let them hear you giving praise, but don’t hold back if they’re out of earshot, either. If you speak highly of them in a private meeting with your own boss, mention it to them later. Your loyalty to them will increase their loyalty to you.
- Have Difficult Conversations
Embrace difficult conversations, seeing them as an opportunity for growth. A great boss is a pro at conflict resolution, and puts his mediation skills to the test if coworkers have a problem to resolve. When he’s talking to people about improving their performance, he keeps a positive focus. His coaching skills guide them toward a better understanding of how they can strengthen their work.Next time you see a difficult conversation on the horizon, ask yourself how you can make it a positive experience. Seize upon the opportunities for growth, and reflect on how you can act as a supportive coach rather than just calling out mistakes. If you want to learn more, read Practical Tactics for Crucial Communication.
- Help People Envision Their Future
Help your employees craft their career plans, envisioning the future of their dreams. An outstanding boss asks plenty of questions that help people figure out where they want to go in their careers. She shows she’s invested in her employee’s happiness. Her people look at her as a wise mentor rather than someone who’s there to criticize them.
- Focus on Work/Life Balance
Don’t assume that people will come to you to talk about problems with work/life balance. They may feel ashamed that they’re feeling burned out and stressed, or worried about your response. Check in with employees about their work/life balance regularly. If they’re having an issue, brainstorm solutions with them, being as accommodating as you can reasonably be.
Tom agreed to work on growing in these ways over the next several months. As time went on, people stopped seeing him as just a supervisor and started seeing him as a valued mentor and coach. Their trust and loyalty skyrocketed, and they felt encouraged to think creatively and take risks. Knowing they had a great boss behind them, they felt there was nothing they couldn’t accomplish together. With these tips on how to become a better boss, you’ll get there soon too, even if you’re not well on your way already!
Whether you’re an experienced boss or an aspiring one, reach out to Joel for Leadership Coaching Program.
“Corporate culture matters. How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything—for better or for worse.”
Client Julie says: I’ve just accepted a job as manager of my department. I want to successfully navigate this new leadership role. What mistakes should I make sure to avoid?
Coach Joel answers: Becoming a manager probably marks a dramatic shift from your previous role. It may feel overwhelming. You’re being asked to apply a new skill set, and everyone is gaging your ability to handle the role. But avoid these 6 classic mistakes, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a great boss.
- Ignoring the Big Picture
New managers might be tempted to dive into the daily grind before fully educating themselves on organizational vision, mission, and strategy. To guide and inspire their team, however, they need a strong grasp of these concepts. Thus, they should meet with leaders of the organization early on to get briefed on strategy and understand their perspective on these issues. Creating an action plan is important when starting a new role.
- Presuming They Know Their Employees
You might have worked alongside your direct reports for years, but you don’t know them as their manager. Taking time for one-on-ones with each of them is vital to understanding their work performance goals, concerns, and job roles. Communicating that you want their ideas about how your department can improve will also convey that you value them.
- Micromanaging Employees
Because your success depends on theirs, you might be tempted to micromanage the nitty gritty details of your direct reports’ days. Here’s an important tip for every new manager: Relinquish total control. Trying to maintain that level of control signifies mistrust, which is especially harmful to a new manager who might be supervising former coworkers. (They’d be sure to see you as too big for your britches!) After you delegate tasks, let employees handle them.
- Assuming Executive Presence Develops Naturally
Executive presence doesn’t just develop on its own—at least, not for most people. New managers should consciously work to cultivate charisma (because yes, that’s something you can develop). They should also practice regulating their emotions, keeping a couple of stress-reducing exercises in their pocket for critical moments. New managers must show they’re calm and in control in order for others to trust and take them seriously.
- Choosing a Leadership Style That Doesn’t Feel Right
You might gravitate toward a leadership style that your previous boss used. However, if it’s not the best fit for your personality, it will probably feel awkward or ineffective. Read up on leadership styles—such as visionary, democratic, and affiliative leadership—to determine which style or combination is right for you. Then, find a mentor who models that style.
- Brushing Off Awkward Feelings
If you sense any tension from direct reports who used to be your coworkers, don’t ignore it. That will only cause it to fester. Bring it up during your one-on-one meetings, talking about how you can reduce the awkwardness together. Even if you don’t sense hostility or hurt feelings, acknowledging the shift fosters openness that will help you navigate any awkwardness that arises.
- Ignoring the Big Picture
If you’re a new manager, you’re sure to make mistakes. After all, you are a rookie, and everyone starts somewhere. For all new managers, tips and advice from a trusted mentor are priceless. Have regular one-on-ones with your mentor to talk through the inevitable questions and hurdles that arise.
Help the newly promoted succeed with an Executive Coaching Program by Joel Garfinkle.
Achieving the highest possible return on human capital must be every manager’s goal.
Sebastian asks: As a new manager, I see that building relationships with my employees is way different than with coworkers. I don’t want to be that stereotypical boss who stays behind a desk except to give criticism. Can you help me figure out how to navigate these new waters?
Joel answers: Sebastian, you’re absolutely right in putting a lot of thought into this issue. Gallop found that one in two American workers has left a job to escape from a boss. Plus, 20% of workers would be happier if their boss left their organization.
Relationships between employees and managers are not only shaped by personalities—they’re also shaped by societal forces you have less control over. The constant demand for talent can shift the power dynamic between employees and bosses, notes Elizabeth Aylott in Employee Relations. Today’s employees expect a lot from a boss, because they know they’re not easy to replace. Here’s how to give them what they’re looking for.
- Be Trustworthy
Trust is important to the employee/manager relationship. Make a habit of following through with all promises on time. When you’ve finished something you told an employee you would do, say so. If you said you would read her proposal, call her into your office and provide effective feedback so she knows you’re supportive of her efforts. Repeatedly being “too busy” to respond to your employees conveys that you don’t make them a priority. Following up with people about the things you’ve pledged to do shows you respect them, fostering good feelings toward you.
- Work Alongside Them
Spend some time working hand-in-hand with employees, so you can really get to know each other’s working styles. You’ll see firsthand how they work best, so you can serve as a better coach. Their respect for you will grow when they see you’re willing to help out with the tasks that many managers may feel they’re above. Plus, you’ll gain a more in-depth view of each team member’s role when you actually see what they do on a daily basis.Use inclusive language, like “Look what we’ve accomplished together” or “What do you think we can achieve today?” This will emphasize that you’re a team.
- Help People to Grow
Show each member of your team that you care about helping them achieve deeper fulfillment from their work. Make time on a quarterly basis to check in about their career satisfaction and any changes they envision in their trajectory. If they’ve decided to make a change, this will help you figure out together how it can mesh with the organization’s needs. These talks will help establish a strong relationship based on mutual consideration. In fact, Gallup reports that employees are almost three times more engaged when managers regularly meet with them one-on-one, either face-to-face or on the phone.As people push their boundaries, offer genuine gratitude for their contributions and efforts.
- Uphold Boundaries
Recognize that the power you hold in your relationships with employees can make it hard for them to say “no” to social invitations. Hanging out with particular employees outside of work can breed resentment in others and signal favoritism. Thus, it’s best to keep employee and manager relationships professional. It’s okay to go to an occasional event at someone’s home, like a holiday party, but socializing with particular people too often can compromise your working relationship. The same goes for social networking—not everyone wants to use Facebook to keep up with professional contacts, so “friending” your employees may not be a welcome move.
- Watch Emerging Trends
Keeping your pulse on emerging and future trends will help you meet employees’ shifting expectations. The younger generations expect a lot of coaching, training, and feedback, for example. Read the latest surveys and reports on what employees want, so you know how to boost their performance and loyalty.
Strong employer and manager relationships require continual effort to grow. Remember that as a manager, you’re not just responsible for getting tasks completed—you need to foster relationships that keep your team strong. When you build these relationships, employees will feel comfortable coming to you with both problems and ideas, improving workplace culture and boosting your team’s capacities.
“It is easier to motivate people to do something difficult than something easy.” ~Sheri L. Dew~
Lydia Asks: I don’t know how to make some of my people feel more invested in their work. I would have thought success alone would be the best motivation, but apparently not. How can I get people to care more about their work?
Joel Answers: Increasing employee engagement is vital to retaining your people and succeeding as a company. Yet many companies’ “employee engagement plan” consists of giving out a survey and then telling managers to make things better, says Gallup. That’s probably why 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged in their work—or are actively disengaged—according to the organization’s data.
Here’s how to build engagement, inspiring your people to achieve more than they thought possible.
- Be Transparent
When employees feel the company is hiding something from them, they feel less invested in their jobs and may start to look elsewhere. If the company is going through a rough time, be transparent. Share your plan and what all employees can do to help. You might be surprised at how much this will build morale, not only helping you weather the storm but emerge from it in better shape than ever.
- Get into the Trenches
If you’re hiding behind your desk all day, you’re missing opportunities to contribute more as a manager. Build your working relationships by wandering through the office, asking people how they’re doing and listening to their ideas. Ask them if they need help, showing you have no qualms about rolling up your sleeves and pitching in with whatever’s needed. It’ll earn you tremendous respect and create a true sense of working as a team, increasing employees’ engagement in their jobs.
- Allow Your Stars to Shine
Give your team a problem to tackle, so they can generate their own creative solutions. If you need to bring an idea to upper management, create the idea as a team. Give credit where it’s due when you present it, of course—execs will be impressed that you’re fostering ingenuity among your people, and your team will feel valued. Your employees will also relish the chance to contribute in meaningful ways to the organization’s success, and your top talent will soar when their creative abilities are unleashed.
- Share Gratitude Often
The power of gratitude in the workplace. Say thank you often, and be specific about what you appreciate in people. If someone just completed a project, point out the qualities and talents she used in seeing it through—and do this in front of her peers. Give frequent feedback about what people are doing well, along with guidance in areas where they’re growing.
- Give People the Chance to Self-Critique
When an employee could have performed better, give him the opportunity to self-critique by explaining what he thinks he should have done differently. Then help him figure out how to get there. Failure itself usually gives people new insights; your job is to help them integrate these insights into their future performance. Addressing failures or shortcomings in this way feels empowering to employees, as you’re trusting them to help figure out a new plan.
- Create Social Opportunities
Give people the chance to share about their lives and aspirations in a less formal way by creating social opportunities. Having a pizza party for lunch after a team accomplishment will encourage everyone to gather in one place and chat. Taking a few employees out for lunch each week will also give you a chance to connect—and by handpicking people who don’t know each other well encourages new relationships. Asking your team to select a volunteer opportunity to take part in together is another idea. By fostering relationships, you’ll increasing their sense of comradery, which will make motivation and engagement skyrocket.
- Get Silly
If you just send a humdrum email about an employee’s accomplishments, coworkers might barely glance at it. Instead, celebrate these moments in unexpected ways. The Society for Human Resource Management describes how in one company, a group of people parade around with kazoos, horns, and cow bells proclaiming the news. Getting a little wacky turns it into a fun moment for everyone, and makes them take notice.
As you can see, these factors aren’t related to compensation. Higher pay and benefits don’t drive engagement—relationships and communication do. By boosting employees’ engagement, you’ll be increasing their loyalty to the organization and raising the bar for what you can achieve together.