I recently wrote 7 Impractical Leadership Principles and Why I Use Them. One comment on the post stood out to me, because admittedly, as much as I believe in the post, this is a difficult aspect of leadership.
Someone wrote in reference the principle “I watch people fail”:
I am in the middle of the last one you posted and it is tough. Many times I wonder if I should just step in, but I am trying to exercise patience.
That’s a delicate balance. When do you step in and rescue someone and when do you allow the person to possibly fail?
Here is my response:
The balance for me is in how much the failure will injure them versus how much it will teach them.
If I can save them unneeded heartache, then I’m likely to step in an try to help. There are failures we can learn without the need to repeat them. When I was in business, I had people give me fair warning about doing business with certain individuals. In ministry, it’s helpful if I can get a good (or bad) reference before I hire the right (or wrong) person. I am always appreciative of that type of protection and would want to offer it to others.
If, however, I would be stunting the individual’s personal growth by stepping in to rescue them, I may let them fail. Failure is one of life’s greatest educators, so most people grow through trial and error. If, for example, someone on my team wants to try something new. I may feel it isn’t the best decision, or it isn’t the way I would choose to do it, but I usually can’t guarantee it won’t be a success. Instead of going with my gut, I may let the team member follow his or her gut and take a chance. We may discover a home run and I would happily admit my hunch was wrong. Either way, the team member learns something.
The bottom line for me is to discern the greater value…growth of a team member by allowing failure, which ultimately helps the overall team, or protecting a team member from needless injury, which ultimately helps the overall team.
I hope this is helpful in addressing the dilemma. Keep in mind, there are no clear cut lines on leadership issues like this. Every situation is unique. We are keep learning and developing in these areas.
Wow, leadership is hard, isn’t it?
How do you decide when to allow someone fail and when to save them the agony?