Let your people fail to help them grow

Great leaders allow people to learn from their mistakes.

The Surdek Team
March 6, 2023
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In our day-to-day coaching work with our clients, we often come across leaders who are afraid to let their people make mistakes. The truth is, it is quite challenging to let someone fail without wanting to step in and prevent it.

We talk a lot about co-creative leadership on the blog, and one of the five key skills that all great co-creative leaders have is to create a culture of learning and experimenting within their teams.

What do these two ideas have to do with each other? As a leader, think of what happens if you are always ready to swoop in and fix your team's mistakes before they happen. Will they be autonomous and engaged or will they become powerless and over-reliant on you?

In this article, we will explore in more detail why it is important to let people make mistakes and how great leaders do it to develop their team members.

What does it mean to fail?

You may have a lot of experience in your field, which allows you to predict situations. If this is the case for you, failure is when things do not go according to your plan. It usually means you have some expectations and when things do not happen as you thought they would, you are disappointed.

However, another lens to view this is that when you are stepping in and providing support to prevent mistakes, you are assuming that you know more than others on your team. This may be a part of your leadership game even though you are coming from a place of wanting to protect them.

So perhaps you tend to protect your teams from failure and disappointment. But what could happen if you let those mistakes happen? Could it possibly make your people better in the long run?

How do you react to failure?

What happens when you see a flaw in your team's strategy? What do you do when you know that their estimated delay is unrealistic? Are you comfortable letting them go ahead with their plan?

The thing is your own fear of failure may be stopping you from letting people try. Every time you do this, you are stopping that person from learning something valuable from that mistake. You are also making it harder for them to come up with better ways to do things.

Another thing to remember is that when your teams try something new, surprising things can happen. Sometimes your fears may simply not materialize at all!

The questions you should ask yourself are: Is this a real problem now? Or is it just something that I am worried about?

How can you help your team learn from failing?

The truth of the matter is that most people learn by doing. That is at the very heart of innovation which is critical in the modern business world. Your team cannot come up with creative ways to solve everyday problems if you are always coming in to rescue them from their mistakes.

We are not saying to sit back and do nothing if you see a train wreck waiting to happen. Take it as an opportunity to reflect on your leadership game and to engage your team to help them learn and become more empowered.

Instead of swooping in, one thing you can do is to create a discussion to talk through it with your team. Ask them how they would handle the potential issues that you see and create a back-and-forth. It is not about your ideas coming out first. It is about people bringing their own ideas and taking ownership of the solution. If they do not have any thoughts, then you can suggest your ideas.

As a leader, you can also take the opportunity to create an experiment around the issue. The most valuable question you can ask them is: What did you learn from this experiment? It is about giving your team the space to try things. Through it all, make sure they are comfortable coming to you for advice.


Growing your organization without looking outside of your comfort zone is impossible. That means getting comfortable around mistakes and things not going according to plan.

Helping people learn by letting them fail is something you have to deal with as a leader. Great leaders are comfortable delegating tasks and decision-making authority to their team members. They support the decisions they make even when things go wrong.

Give your team permission to try things when the outcome is uncertain even if it is not the perfect solution. Trust them to deliver even when you do not know or do not fully understand what they are doing. That will get you on the road to co-creative leadership!

When was the last time your team tried something and made mistakes? What new experiment could you let your team try out?