Permission to Fail

If you’ve had a long enough career, you’ve picked up a few management lessons along the way. Good bosses teach by example but the shortest trip up the learning curve often comes courtesy of bad managers. I learned something pretty powerful from a former boss. He said, and I quote: “It is always better to commit a sin of commission than a sin of omission.” In his mind, the worst thing his employees could do was to do nothing. Better we should “stick our necks out,” try something risky, even if it means failing miserably. He was the president of an ad agency, and in an industry that thrives on creativity those were wise words. Steve Davies, former president of Sandata and small business consultant, learned a valuable lesson from a former honcho. He details the experience in his blog post “Never Allow Your People to Delegate Upward,” and it’s written specifically for owners of small businesses.

While Davies’ lesson was phrased differently, I believe he received the same takeaway as I did. The best managers know that their organizations need people who aren’t afraid to fail. The development of better client service, more innovative products and less costly ways of doing business require an atmosphere that encourages problem solving, and therefore risk taking, at lower levels of the company.

After all, delegating upward is simply an effort to avoid the risk of making a poor decision.

I received a healthy dose of that lesson at Long Island Business News. We scheduled a meeting to brainstorm some off-the-wall ideas for stories. A few were so offbeat they’ll never appear in print. But very many became real stories.

You never know what can happen when you let your folks stick their necks out.