Let Your Team Own Successes and Failures (It's not all about you...) (01/11/2018)
My partner has a music production company and works with many performance and vocal coaches. Personally, I can't think of anything more stress inducing than singing in front of hundreds of people on a big stage in formal wear which is something she absolutely loves. One thing that does stress her out , however, is the interaction that she has with one of the coaches on her team. This coach has a cognitive bias whereby when her client is successful, it's only because of her coaching. If the performance is not up to her standard, she is excessively disappointed and blames her client for not being good enough for her. This behavior is an attribution error that places responsibility for success and failure incorrectly and more importantly, unfairly.
In business, the basic attribution error places the blame on others when things go bad but circumstances are blamed for our own bad result. When we as managers and executives put our hearts and souls into development of our people, it's difficult not to become totally invested in outcomes as a reflection of ourselves. And whether we intended it or not — developing and mentoring someone is a highly personal activity. The feeling that somehow a subordinate may have failed within a relationship rather than at a business task or situation is something we need to deal with and manage. What is our role as managers when our teams succeed or fail? How can we make the most of either outcome?
If our teams succeed only to please us the likelihood that they will internalize high performance behavior as their own is slim. Conversely, if dealing with failure also means dealing with the emotional baggage of your boss, the upside of failure — learning from your mistakes, managing recovery and honing analytical skills going forward — will be lost along with the reasoned risk taking that is necessary for innovation.
Let your team enjoy the spotlight of success and use that feeling as an incentive for more. Enable your team to learn from failure without the added pressure of your disappointment. Trust yourself to recognize and respond to real performance issues such as bad judgements or repetitive behavior resulting in consistently missed expectations. If subordinates are missing an opportunity in failure to successfully course correct you'll need to step in.
The key takeaways are these:
- Give your team your best effort to support their activities by clearly identifying objectives, providing concise direction and monitoring progress — the basics of good management.
- When expectations are not met, focus on the situation and the environment first — not on who screwed up.
- Give your team permission to try new ideas and approaches without the fear that they will disappoint you if things don't go well.
- Ask for and expect status reports. You're smart — if you see danger coming work with your subordinate to avoid it; if the plan is going well — great! Give your team the acknowledgement they've earned.
- Know yourself. If you are afraid of failure or have a subordinate who is; do two things upfront to enable success:
- Examine the worst case scenario so you know the absolute worst of what you might be up against, and
- Have a contingency plan. If you're afraid of failure or if you're managing a mission-critical activity, having a "Plan B" will boost your confidence about moving forward.
My partner no longer works with that vocal coach. Although she was a great teacher in session, the pressure that she placed on her client to succeed for her during performances simply sucked the joy out of success. Don't make the same mistake — let your people own their successes and failures. Trust yourself to trust them. Success feels good and motivates us to do bigger and better things — it's the fuel for ambition and commitment. Failure can teach us things about ourselves that we would have never learned otherwise, most importantly, the discovery of our inner strength.
Have a wonderful winter. Stay warm and safe and remember - Spring is right around the corner!