Allow Yourself To Fail In Public

When Sarah Friar, the highly respected CFO at Square, announced her departure, Jack Dorsey used it as an opportunity to provide Friar with 3 points of advice. The first of which, and the focus of this post, is as follows:

“Risk, creativity and defining your own path is made possible only through a series of failures, some big, some small. Hide none of them. Take pride in your ability to recognize them faster and better than anyone else, and your drive to learn from them to improve yourself.” – Jack Dorsey

The advice is profound given the simplicity of the statement combined with the current backdrop of the criticisms of privacy issues that is currently engulfing much of Silicon Valley.  That being said, the advice is timeless in that true leaders should never hide their mistakes. Here are four reasons why true leaders are transparent about their mistakes and the resulting benefits to them and their organizations:

Failure Humanizes – True leaders realize that there exists a mythical view of leadership.  Our culture of hero worship is evident everywhere – sports, politics, celebrity and business.  True leaders understand the inherent barrier that this creates with those that they lead and that, if left unchecked, can result in a distorted view or reality.  As the saying goes, the leaders who don’t listen to those that they lead will find themselves leading those with nothing to say. True leaders use failure as a tool to tear down that barrier and in so doing become more human in the process.  And it is through that process that they insure open communication in the future.

Transparency Breeds Credibility – Think about the person who says everything is perfect all the time.  Though you might respect their positive mental attitude, you don’t believe them.  Nothing goes right for someone all the time.  Likewise, if you have an employee that tells you all the time how great they are doing with never a mention of so much as a remote challenge, the natural human tendency is to think that they are hiding something or worse, that they really don’t know.  The same holds true with companies.  When companies are totally transparent with the challenges that exist, the result is higher credibility and trust with the wins. 

Creating a Sense of Urgency – One of the hardest things about leading a large organization is creating a sense of urgency when none otherwise seems to exists.  In Daniel Pink’s book When, the author discusses that individuals are most likely to run their first marathon at age 29.  He further states that the second most likely age to run a marathon is at 49.  Is there really a difference between 29 and 30 in the ability for someone to run the marathon?  Of course not, but the individual has manufactured a sense of urgency in their mind that pushes them to get the job done.  The same can occur when a failure is made public.  Successful leaders recognize that the failure must be corrected for growth to continue.  Having it out in the open results the manufacture of an external influence that heightens the sense of urgency.

Quality of Decisions – Lastly, no matter how big the organization, time and resources are limited.  Knowing what to focus the growth engine on accomplishing is not an easy task for even the most disciplined and successful leaders. It requires analysis of problems and a process for prioritization.  The variables in that process must include the view of all stakeholders – shareholders, employees and clients.  By hiding problems, the leader gets a distorted view of prioritization variables whereas by being transparent about those same problems the leader has the access to better quality variables in the decision making process.  And better inputs always equal better outputs.

Happy Leading!