When My Boss Let Me Fail
I will never forget my first performance evaluation. My boss, Jack, reviewed my first year on the job, highlighting some of my early successes. He then proceeded with a litany of my shortcomings, failures and areas that needed improvement. Several of the examples he cited were over six months old. At the conclusion of the conversation, I said, “I really appreciate the feedback, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to have made me aware of these as you observed them so I could have fixed them by now?” I don’t remember Jack’s response, but I can tell you that he did not change his approach to performance management.
The One Minute Manager
Flash forward about ten years to when Ken Blanchard began espousing the concept of the One Minute Manager. Blanchard referred to Jack’s style of performance appraisals as NIGYYSOB or, “Now I’ve got you, you SOB.” He suggested what I understood in my first year of professional employment; it makes more sense to give your employees in the moment praise or constructive criticism than building a file throughout the year for the annual, NIGYYSOB performance review. He also talked about giving your employees the opportunity to fail but being a safety net for them if they do.
Leadership in the Military
Stanley McChrystal, the former Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), tells a story on TED Talk about an experience he had early in his career. He had just completed a simulation maneuvers exercise and his troops had been “killed.” The ensuing debriefing with his superiors and in front of his peers only served to exacerbate his already wounded pride and self-esteem. As he walked out of the debriefing room, he saw his battalion commander who said, “Stanley, I thought you did great out there.” McChrystal said, “In one sentence he lifted me up, put me back on my feet and taught me that leaders let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”
A True Business Leader
At Dise & Company, we like to joke that our corporate headquarters is not in some remote city, but in the corner office. The reality is that we do not need to go to “corporate” to get approval when dealing with a client need. Instead, if we do seek out our President, Ralph Dise, it is for his insight or just to let him know what we did. Ralph’s leadership style of trust has resulted in a much more open and creative environment for us as employees. In turn, the ability to respond to our clients’ executive search, outplacement and executive coaching needs in the moment without the traditional bureaucratic and time consuming approval from corporate.
Ralph will tell you there have been times when one of us came up with an idea he thought was sure to fail. But rather than tell us that, he let us run with it. While there have been occasions when he was right, Ralph has never said, “I knew that wouldn’t work.” Instead, he has created the “safety net” of the freedom to try new things and to potentially fail without being a failure. Consequently, our firm and our clients have benefited from a number of successful programs and approaches that would have never seen the light of day if Ralph had not let us run with them.
What’s Your Leadership Style?
So what is your leadership style? Are your performance appraisals NIGGYSOBs or in the moment praise and/or constructive criticism? Do you give your employees opportunities to fail, while being there as a safety net for them if they do? When they fail do you help them to not be a failure? When they succeed do you give them the praise and recognition they deserve?
What is your leadership style? Share your thoughts in the comments below!