Failure: The Crux of Developing Leaders

When explaining to colleagues the importance of letting the workforce learn by completing the task, I often use the analogy of teaching one’s child to tie his or her shoes.

Patience is a Virtue

I remember the lack of patience I had when teaching my son (now 17 years old) to tie his shoes. During the first week, I stood by the front door, looking down at my son fumble with his laces. The first few times, I bent down, took the laces from him and said, “Watch this, are you watching? Look at my hands and say it with me o-ver, under, pull-it-tight, make-a-bow, pull it through, to do it right! Okay, you got it?” Then out the door we went.

A week later, when I picked him up from school, I noticed a parent putting on his daughter’s Velcro shoes. The parent noticed me watching him, as I waited (impatiently) for my son to put on his shoes. He said “Hey, after a couple weeks of sitting where you’re sitting, we said screw it, we’re getting her velcros. Waaay less frustrating.” I nodded my head in agreement as my son eagerly tried to tie his shoes.

I waved goodbye to the father and daughter, taking note of her cute little velcro shoes. Looking at my son, I realized that my impatience was actually robbing my son of his growth and sense of accomplishment. It was at that moment that I decided, there was no way I was going to buy my kid velcro shoes.

We Learn from Failure, Not from Success

The same concept holds true in the workforce. Some managers are hampering the next generation of leaders because they are not teaching them. Some leaders are overwhelmed by the sense of urgency, the fear of failure, the ill-fated need for perfection and the illusion that their method and solution is the best option.

My sense of urgency while waiting for my son to tie his shoes was due to my failure to build time to teach him into our morning routine. I realized that allowing him to struggle and then accomplish a task is important to his self-confidence and independence. I also realized there were at least three common methods for tying one’s shoe and allowed him to explore other methods.

Humility Goes a Long Way

So the next time you utter, “I don’t have time to wait,” or “If I do it myself, I know it will be right,” you should challenge your thought process. Is time really the issue? If you actually let employees complete the task, they will probably succeed. If you don’t, then you will never know their potential.

LaMesha Craft is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Joe Antoshak

I’m also a firm believer in the value of personal accomplishment over having things done for you. It’s an obligation for those currently in power to prepare the next generation for the world they’ll be receiving, which means that leaders have to teach and trust, or else they’re not really leading at all.

LaMesha Craft

Hi Joe! Thank for leaving a comment. I agree that personal accomplishment is very important and preparing the next generation is paramount!

Mary Parker

I echo Joe’s comments. Sure, it’d be easier and faster to do it yourself, but you’re not going to be in the organization forever. Another concept to consider is that as long as you are considered invaluable or irreplaceable, hoarding your knowledge and assets means you will not be considered for any other positions because they can’t afford to lose you. Consequently, others will be offered opportunities for which you might have been considered. As one of my wiser colleagues told me, “Everything you say yes to means saying no to something else.”

LaMesha Craft

Hi Mary! Thank you for your comment. I wholeheartedly agree with you … we are only as good as the legacy we leave behind — which means hoarding knowledge is the worst thing one can do. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.