Sometimes Leading Means Letting Others Fail … At Least A Little - Infinity Network Solutions

We recently had a group of I.T. business executives visit our company to facilitate a SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) analysis for us.  These guys are all part of our HTG (Heartland Technology Group) peer board group, so we were fortunately able start the conversation from the same page in the hymn book, so to speak.  “Speaking the same language” allowed us to more quickly get down to brass tacks … and the brass tacks started five minutes into the event.

It was when Steve, the SWOT lead, looked at our leadership team and said, “Before I even hear the first thing from you or your staff, I want you to know that I know one thing to be true:  All the problems with this company are in this room, and they are you.  Most important, they are Rob.”

This was blunt and direct, yet it was a very powerful way to start off our two-day SWOT.

Steve went on to say, “If you aren’t 100% committed to this fact and to making the changes needed, we might as well all head back home now.”

So, now I am thinking, Why did I waste all this money getting them here if he just wants to leave?  After a minute, however, I realized the power in what he was saying.  Leaders are always the problem and have to change first before anyone else can.  If your staff isn’t getting the job done right, for whatever reason, it is your fault as a leader.  So, we agreed to both statements and demands.  Any time we hesitated during those two days, Steve reminded us of our commitment to change.

We found out many things we didn’t know about ourselves.  The biggest surprise for me was how I was limiting our company’s growth.  My DISC profile is a “DI”, or, in Animals, I am a Lion/Monkey.  This means I want to inspire and lead, but when push comes to shove, I just want “it” fixed now and will bulldoze you to get it done.  In most cases, that means my doing “it” for a variety of excuses, none of which is really all that strong when put to the smell test.  I want to get into everything going on because I want to be sure it is being done right.

Nate, another SWOT team member, asked me when I have someone present a problem to me, what do I do?  I told him I ask for their solution and either agree with it or give them the answer as I see it.  He went on to ask if I ever let someone fail?  I answered, not if I could help it.

I learned several strategic tasks to work on to better inform the team and one very tactical item.  I was told to get out of the way of my team.  This meant not being involved with every detail of every item.  It didn’t mean not holding people accountable for the outcomes.  It meant letting them work through more things on their own.  It also meant taking a different approach when asked for help with finding a solution.

I had to coach my team members and not do everything for them.  I was given some very good questions to do this with:

  1. “What would you do if I wasn’t around to help you?”
  2. “What would the outcome be?”
  3. “Would that satisfy the client?”
  4. “Is that in keeping with our Company Mission and Values?”

What I realized when I heard this approach is that I could give people more room to “fail” without failing our clients.  I could use these questions to coach instead of do, and, in doing that, I would enable more people to better serve our clients even when I wasn’t there.

Now, I am not perfect, and while the team agreed to help hold me accountable, we have all slid back into the old “let Rob just fix it” ways.  But, when we do, we realize it and strive to do better the next time.  We know this change is needed.  We are a team of great people that wants to do great for the clients. From time to time, we need room to “fail” and then learn from it.

How do you give your team room to fail without failing your clients?  Drop me a line and maybe I can learn a few more new tricks to share.  Contact me at or call 478-475-9500.