What Have You Failed At Lately? If the Answer Is Nothing, Steer Clear…

Successful companies are those that steer clear of leaders who constantly tout about how they have never failed at anything. The question “What Have You Failed At Lately?” is powerful, and it gives us great insight into a leader’s ability and willingness to innovate and adapt accordingly.

We want leaders who are comfortable with ambiguity; those who are comfortable with change; and those who are able and willing to adapt. In order to get a leader with these qualities, he/she must be willing to fail and be comfortable with failure.

Interview for Success by Asking at Least One Question About Failure!

We say we want creative and innovative leaders and then we recruit with interview questions that focus solely on success. We need to add several behavioral questions about failure and pay special attention to the responses we get.

Organizational Culture

Does Fear Permeate Your Organizational Culture?

I assert that “the moment one decides that failure is not an option, he inherently decides that success is not either.”

If we truly want bold, out-of-the-box thinking and leaders who are open to change and creative thinking, then we should agree that failure is an option. People who are not afraid to fail will actually thrive and let their talents shine. The freedom to think and strategize will free them to deliver on what you hired them for.

Successful leaders develop other successful leaders by providing the space, culture and landscape for nurturing and growing talent and divergent ideas. Many times we go through all the trouble to find this “great” talent just to stifle it on a dysfunctional landscape where fear rules the day and ideas die.

I want to know what leaders have failed at lately. Their responses provide insight into not only how bold and innovative they really might be, but also into how adaptable and amenable to change they are. The greatest leaders have demonstrated that they were more interested and driven by actually succeeding at great things rather than being afraid of failing.

Following are some sample “failure” questions or statements you can use to gauge how willing an individual might be to seek out and apply new/different ideas and whether he/she is comfortable enough with failure to apply continuous improvement techniques.

  1. What have you failed at lately and what were the consequences to you and/or your team or organization?
  2. How did you feel when you worked on a project that did not achieve the intended results and what did you do about it?
  3. Describe an instance where you and/or your team did not achieve intended goals and share what happened and why.
  4. What are your thoughts about changing plans and shifting priorities after the project plan has already been considered to be set?
  5. Under what circumstances have you applied new thinking, processes or ideas to a strategy or technique with an already proven track record of success? How did you go about soliciting the new thinking, processes or ideas?
  6. When was the last time you used your judgment to apply a completely new or different approach or method to a project or process? What were the results and how did you feel about them?

Failure, in and of itself – and without learning from it – may not be a good thing, but the fear of failing to the point of not trying anything new, outright resisting change and avoiding all risk, is indeed failure – and the unacceptable kind at that.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever worked in a culture permeated by fear?

by Terina Allen
President & CEO, ARVis Institute
Chair, ARVoices Strategic Leadership Networ