Merge's Blog

Don’t set people up to fail!

GreatByChoiceYesterday I had lunch with my professional colleague (and good friend) Nora, and we got to talking about excellent books we’ve recently read.  Great by Choice (written by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen) topped Nora’s list, and as she told me about the book, one sentence in particular caught my attention.

The only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive

The authors make this statement as they explore what behaviours it takes for companies and organizations to thrive in chaotic and uncertain environments.  Obviously, it’s a response to the age-old adage “you polish your skills by doing it right, but you learn from making mistakes”.  Sure, making mistakes are critical to personal and professional growth, to building experience, and to gaining wisdom BUT the authors are correct — ONLY if you are able to survive the outcome of the mistakes.  If the mistake is too big, if it has such far-reaching consequences as to destroy you before you can progress further, then it’s not just a mistake, it’s a STUPID MISTAKE!

Which means that as leaders it’s important to encourage employees to take risks and to step outside their comfort zones, BUT it’s just as critical to establish parameters and create and communicate boundaries within which employees know that they’re free to make decisions and take action.  So in other words, don’t assign your most lucrative client to the salesperson who just started last week!  Don’t ask your rookie tax analyst to take on a project without giving him a go-to person for questions or clarifications.  Don’t ask your newbie assistant to put together a PowerPoint deck and not give yourself enough time to review it before your presentation!  Bottom line: don’t set your people up to fail!  Help your employees make mistakes, but don’t let them perish on the pathway!

Have you seen (or been the victim of) situations where “the mistake” was so big that it simply wasn’t possible to learn from it and move forward?  What can be done in such circumstances, or perhaps even more importantly, to prevent such a situation?  Please comment below.


  • Such a good article! It can be even explored further as using more examples. I would like to read more of those.

  • True Hong Wei; do you have some examples to offer? I am sure that you have seen such situations go awry in your workplace. I know that we can all learn from each others experiences.


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