3 leadership insights about high performance
The road to high performance is paved with the golden bricks of experience and learning lessons. You often learn most from your mistakes and get better as a result.
In contrast though, one of the things I see time and time again is a tension between the rational desire to allow your team to learn their own lessons, and the corporate intolerance for failure.
So how can I help you to focus on doing lessons learned better and help your team improve their performance?
During a virtual keynote in EMEA last week I discussed how the concept of failing fast was inherently flawed because most individuals are scared of failing. It’s something ingrained in us from childhood, that failing is seen as bad.
So, let’s first change the language you use with your team from “failing fast” to “learning quickly”. It’s your role to create an environment where your team can learn lessons, by grazing their knees versus breaking their legs.
People learn from the “minor injury” but one that doesn’t stop them in their tracks or end their careers.
I have 3 stories to help unpack this a bit:
The first is a story about a university pottery professor who split his class into two groups and briefed them separately, informing the first group that they should focus on making the best pot possible, and the second group that they should focus on making as many pots as possible.
At the end of the semester, the group that created the best pot would win a prize.
The result? Both sets of students set off on their journey to make the pots and at the end of the semester contrary to popular belief, the students who’d made the most pots won the prize because they had tried more things.
They had refined the pot making through a process of learning lessons about what did and didn’t work, and applied that; resulting in better overall outcomes.
Through being curious to see how to make pots more efficiently, and faster they had also improved quality.
The students who fixated on making the best pot simply repeated their process with little experimentation other than focusing on being perfect.
The lesson in there is, of course, if you want to learn quickly, you learn by trying new things seeing what does/doesn’t work, and taking that learning into the next round/cycle.
As a manager, also be mindful of the targets you set people because people become fixated on the goals or KPIs and not necessarily the intended outcomes you had in mind.
The second story I shared was about the idea of Kintsukuori.
This is a Japanese art form where broken ceramic items are repaired using gold. The outcome of the “failure” or the accident, is creating something more beautiful and inherently more valuable than the start point.
I think there’s a beautiful metaphor there. For business, a failed product, or error in execution is the opportunity to learn and to create something more valuable and more useful for your customers or staff as a result.
It requires your moral courage to ask questions like “what can we learn from this”? and “How can this lesson help us”? instead of seeking to blame or avoid the fallout from the fail.
The third idea that I shared was a beautiful quote from Jodi Piccoult, Some lessons cannot be taught. They must be learned.
If we think back to childhood when your parents told you not to do something. Inevitably you would go and do those things anyway and would get hurt or would make a mistake. But you would learn that lesson not from your parents but from your own experience.
I did this by putting my hand on a hot electric hob, imprinting my hand with the coil motif and wearing a glove for 6 months as a result. Does this lesson come back to me every time I sense something hot now? Absolutely it does.
As a leader, you can tell your team to do, or not do something but sometimes you just need to let them learn themselves — and imprint their own lessons.
It takes courage and trust to sometimes let people learn lessons when you could have prevented it.
The key is to think about how you CAN act like the icebreaker (see last week’s blog) and manage effectively around them to protect and help to stop them from sinking.
So if we take those three concepts and put them back into a leadership lens, true high performance comes from being in a learning culture — filled with experiments and taking lessons learned to improve things.
The mistakes along the way are half of an outcome but are also an opportunity to learn and grow and to make something more valuable
When you are ready, here are a few ways you can connect with me.
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