Throughout my blogs I’ve spoken about the need for thoughtful planning. But what should the Musher/Leader do when things just aren’t working out as planned? Mike Tyson has a famous quote that “everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth”. For most managers, getting punched in the mouth is a daily occurrence — things go awry, schedules are missed, directions are poorly interpreted or not followed at all — and most managers expect to deal with daily if not hourly changes to plans.
But what about enterprise-level failures? A promising product launch has produced poor results. Customer satisfaction is flagging and it has been picked up in the blogosphere. Or simply, ambitious results aren’t being met. In this instance, it takes real courage for the Musher to admit that the team and sled are lost. The old adage of “the higher they climb, the further they fall” comes to bear — Leaders sense the precariousness of their elevated status and worry that an admission of failure will taint their public persona, or impair the team’s confidence in them.
It is critical that the Leader avoid placing blame or pointing fingers to deflect the possible scrutiny that comes with a failure. History shows that Boards, investors, and other stakeholders are too smart to be diverted for long, and will only be angered by the Leader’s failture to own the problem. Rather, Leaders should treat the team as team mates, involving team members early and intimately in the process of identifying the source of the failure, planning a course correction, architecting and consistently delivering new messaging, and of course owning the failure while optimistically presenting an alternative pathway forward.
Teams who know that the Leader has a healthy attitude about failure will certainly be more willing to take risks on behalf of the enterprise, and be quicker to escalate and make visible those small problems which could rapidly become big problems. Before the sled goes off into the river, or gets stuck in the trees, or goes off the cliff.