October 18, 2013
Freedom to Learn by Gina Breslin
As a teenager, I took every possible opportunity to go downhill snow skiing. By the time I got to college, I was able to navigate the more difficult ski slopes without falling. It was during this time that I had a ski instructor admonish me, “You know, if you never fall you’re never going to learn anything!” His point was that if I didn’t push myself harder, I would plateau and stay at my current skill level. In taking risks I would most likely fall, and a hard landing on an icy east coast slope would speak louder than any brilliant words he could offer me on proper technique.
Author Hal Runkel states, “Learning from our mistakes is the most effective form of education possible.” If our goal as leaders is to grow and develop others, then allowing for their mistakes by creating an environment without fear of failure is an effective way to grow and develop our team.
While providing on-the-job training for staff members at my family’s business, I learned the value of affording the freedom for my staff to try things on their own. If I wanted an employee to learn a new task it was far more effective if I gave them the opportunity to try and try again without allowing my own anxiety about their potential failure to interfere. By experiencing failures and successes on their own, they learned faster and retained more.
It can be very difficult, but sometimes the best opportunity for developing and growing our team lies in letting them experience the consequences of their mistakes as well. I remember a time when my daughter was younger and we were baking cookies together. As curious children do, she wanted to taste some of the ingredients – one being baking powder. I told her more than once not to try the powdery, flour-like substance, but of course she did anyway. I’m not sure what this says about my parenting skills, but I can say that after experiencing a burning mouthful, she will never eat plain old baking powder again!
John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader within You, states, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. Failure only truly becomes failure when you do not learn from it.” And…(may I take the liberty to add) when you do not allow others to learn from their mistakes as well.
As a leader, you create the environment your team experiences each and every day. Your influence and relationships will be strengthened as you keep your anxiety about failure in check and provide the freedom for your team to learn from their mistakes and experience natural consequences.
When facing a challenge, one of the questions my dad would often ask my brother and me, along with his employees, was “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” He’d answer his own question with: “You might learn something!”