My employees have failed! Now what?

My employees have failed! Now what?

Recently at work, the management team has been experimenting with a new leadership style. It is a bit of a hybrid of the extreme ownership book by Jocko WIllink. How it manifests for us is by saying “Let them fail” when anxiety starts to build up about a task that has been delegated. In the past, the approach was to jump in and solve things before they become problems to keep everyone happy. The problem is that it leads to a team of people who are not equipped to deal with hard problems. When things get hard they look to you their problem solver instead of searching within for a solution. This is not to say that you give the keys to your business to a total stranger and come back in a year. What this strategy is simply means understanding your team and slowly increasing the intensity of the problems you give them to solve over time.

Why is this important?

Over the last 2 years, I have been working at a business that is over 15 years old yet the business owners still work 12 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week. You may find this surprising but many Nigerian businesses operate this way. The goal is always to “open a shop” but there is often not further thinking beyond that. This leads to a scarcity mindset where you become the bottleneck to your own business. Your staff members and customers may even be begging you to grow and you won’t let them in. This fear is not unfounded and it comes from a real place.

The wrong way to think about your business

Why do people sabotage their own businesses? I have been trying to study this concept for about 5 years and I have found some similarities. You may be thinking things like:

  • This is my only source of income
  • They can not do it as good as I can
  • Better people cost more than I am willing to pay
  • I have the energy to do it
  • I will be bored if I give up my job
  • They do not know anything
  • I will have less money if I bring in good people
  • They will leave with all the knowledge

The wrong right way to think about your business

What I want to do instead is respond to each of those points with another way you should think about it instead when the thought creeps in

  • This is my only source of income – I am building a source of income that can exist without my involvement
  • They can not do it as good as I can – I can teach them to be better than me
  • Better people cost more than I am willing to pay – Diamonds are not cheap for a reason
  • I have the energy to do it – I am wasting energy doing what I should not be doing
  • I will be bored if I give up my job – I will have time to figure out how I can be the most useful to my business
  • They do not know anything – Nobody is born an expert
  • I will have less money if I bring in good people – I will have experts that will know more than I can ever learn
  • They will leave with all the knowledge – I am empowering the next generation of business owners

Photo by Maheima Kapur on Unsplash

That was easy! What is the hard part?

As a reformed micromanager myself, I have come to realize that the hard part is letting go. It is easy to say “let them fail”, but it is hard to watch an employee crash and burn. At the end of the day, you need to become a coach and a teacher. You jump in when you need to and guide from afar. It is almost like a child learning how to walk. They fall a few times before they get it. What is important is that you learn how to pick them up, dust them off and send them back.

Failure will look different for every industry. For me, the worst thing that could happen is if a team member complains about something that was 100% unavoidable after the fact when it is too late to remedy the situation. The spirit of not taking initiative is a character trait I actively try to remove from my team members. My goal is a team that can execute better than I ever could without my presence. Your goalpost will be different because your expectations will be different for each person.

If you have trouble letting go, I would suggest watching this video by Simon Sinek on leadership. There is a full book, but the reality is that the business owner is working for the employee and not the other way round. You should always be going above and beyond so that your team feels comfortable giving you their man hours in service of your own selfish cause.

What do you do when you see a team member fail?

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