5 Lessons Learned from Failure

Glenn Llopis wrote and interesting leadership article at Forbes titled 5 Things Failure Teaches You About Leadership some time ago.  It is uncanny how often general leadership articles seem to underscore Lean Principles and Lean Leadership.  The article is worth reading in its entirety.  The five lessons learned follow with my thoughts on how these relate to Lean:

  1. Confront your failure and learn from it:  In Lean terms, this is what the Deming Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act or PDCA) is all about.  Problem Solving teams need to check or follow-up on the results of their countermeasures  and confront any failures in the new process.  Not only do they need to make changes when there is an all out failure, but they should also be looking at correcting smaller issues and taking steps for continuous improvement.  The same goes for Lean Leadership.
  2. Build your team and make your business better:  Lean Leaders respect their people by engaging them in problem solving and continuous improvement while investing in their future.  These activities are the best team building activities and make your organization stronger.
  3. Trust your gut and make more decisions:  Lean problem solving and Lean Leadership brings a disciplined and systematic approach that involves data driven decision-making.  This is good and certainly better than winging it and making important decisions when you are uninformed of the facts.  At the same time, some leaders feel the need to take this to a fault when they delay decisions waiting for more and more data or information.  There is a balance between the two extremes and at some point you need to trust your gut enough to make a decision.  It will be too late if you wait for all the information.
  4. Second chances are all around you:  Lean Leaders work with the understanding that poor processes are the cause of poor results.  There are certainly exceptions but this should be the first assumption rather than finding someone to blame.  The Lean mindset gives us a second chance to fix the process when we see failure with ourselves or our team (see #1).
  5. Appreciate your leadership responsibilities: As a leader you set the tone after a failure.  You have the opportunity to either make changes that result in a better process or to blame and punish.  A Lean Leader embraces these opportunities in an unrelenting quest for perfection.

Does your organization look at failure as a performance problem by blaming individuals or as an opportunity to improve the process?  Are you truly a learning organization?  Do you see Lean Leadership opportunities in failure?


Please leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, subscribe via e-mail (right side bar), retweet, digg, or stumble this article.  You can check out my Facebook page and continue the discussion there as well. Your feedback is appreciated.

About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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