In an ideal world, all emerging leaders should receive many years of coaching, formal training and mentoring to prepare them for the powerful and challenging role they are destined to step into. By the time they move into their first leadership role they should be 100% ready to tackle the day to day challenges that arise, leading their team with great confidence and ease. In reality, this rarely happens. Most leaders receive very little leadership training before stepping into their first leadership role. More often than not, first-time leaders jump straight into the deep end and have to bumble their way through, learning the ropes as they go.
Leaders grow by embracing a ‘trial and error’ mindset
Leaders who are most successful are resilient. They accept they are not perfect, know they are bound to make mistakes, bounce back quickly and stay motivated. Accepting that mistakes are inevitable is crucial. Accepting that you can learn and grow from mistakes is more crucial.
Taking a trial and error approach to leadership is essential for a leader who wants to learn and keep evolving and keep an open mind in the search for the best ways to get from A to B. A trial and error approach is about avoiding fixating on particular solutions, in favour of taking an experimental approach. It’s not about being reckless. It’s about taking calculated risks and looking at failures or mistakes as opportunities to reflect, adapt and do things differently so that we don’t make the same mistakes again.
Embracing a trial and error mindset allows leaders not to become too attached to one solution. Their approach is to try, observe, learn, adjust, and try again. Following this approach allows leaders and their teams to be flexible and adaptable. They listen and are open to evidence that the original plan needs to be adjusted or eliminated.
This mindset is just as important in a leader’s approach to leading others as it is to the way they conduct themselves. Leaders who are accountable and able to openly admit when they have made a mistake themselves sets the tone for the right culture for others to do the same. They create a culture where openness and transparency are as valued as accountability. The people they are leading won’t feel ashamed when they fail because, as Winston Churchill said “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Trial and error leadership encourages everyone to be resilient, to reflect on the learnings from mistakes and quickly bounce back to adjust or change plans and stay motivated rather than collapsing into their failures or trying to cover it up and defend it.
The rule of nine
There’s a great concept on the trial and error approach to leadership from a book called “The Comic Toolbox How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not”, written by John Vorhaus, the comedy writer for iconic 90s TV shows like Married with Children, amongst many.
In his book, Vorhaus defines a concept he calls the ‘rule of nine’; “out of every ten ideas you write, 9 will be useless, so take risks, keep going and don’t judge yourself”. He goes on to explain “For every ten jokes you tell, nine will be trash. For every ten ideas you have, nine won’t work. For every ten times you risk, nine times you fail.” We need to take risks, know that mistakes are inevitable and that each mistake we make is one step closer to success.
As leaders it is so important to be flexible with the solutions that are going to get you to your desired outcome. By assuming that there could be ten possible solutions, and out of them only one will be the ‘gold’ solution, you are managing expectations that the other nine will not be right, and that’s ok. The other nine in fact will be failures. But the failures you encounter are welcomed. They are just part of the journey to success.
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