Back to resources

Easing the Fear of Failure with Guidance

Leadership
Psychological Safety

24 September, 2021

Brian Flanagan
Brian Flanagan

Product Director at TripAdvisor, LLC

Brian Flanagan, Head of Product and Growth at Optimity, encourages autonomy informed by the mission statement that the company as a whole exists to serve.

Problem

If you look at companies that have failed miserably over time, it’s usually a result of terrible management and a lack of creativity. This happens when the people that make up the team are not allowed to be as good as they can possibly be.

That’s the opposite of the type of environment that you want to create for your employees and throughout the organization as a whole. People who feel comfortable and valued are more willing to take risks, and risk leads to innovation. The worst thing that you can do to a team is to take away their ownership of the solving of the problem and developing a solution.

Actions taken

One of my jobs, as a leader, is to provide context to my teams, to understand the levers that we can pull and how this will influence the business. In the absence of that, your teams don’t know what is most important, they don’t know how your business works so that they can prioritize their work and they won’t understand why you may not see something that they do as unimportant. I’ve been with companies where very little data was freely available and there was a lack of sharing of information.

Because of this, everybody was just running around in circles with little heed being paid to the overarching mission of the company. The actual problems that the company had initially set out to solve fall by the wayside. How can we make our product easier to use or easier to understand?

Working in this way is chaos. It destroys your soul. You make it to the end of the day and have no idea what you’ve actually accomplished. The work may feel great as you do it and the delivery may have gone well, but did anybody care? Likely not.

As leaders, we hire adults and we should empower our employees to act as such, enabling them to make adult decisions. At the end of the day, the reason that you were hired is that you bring a higher level of expertise than your manager has and you should act as such.

The bottom line: I really don’t want to do their job. I have no interest whatsoever. The onus is on me to inspire them to do their job well and to allow them to see their success. Under these conditions, most people will act with good intent.

It’s okay when somebody fails; things usually seem like a much better idea at the time. There is always something new to learn from failure. Now, we know. Great. Don’t feel bad about it. What can you do moving forward?

Lessons learned

  • You see this happen more and more in product organizations nowadays. They become a feature factory. There is no strategy or vision that each move is building toward. The focus should be on how to make your customers’ lives better.
  • Develop a sense of ownership around the value that you want to bring to others. Understand thoroughly the impact of what you’re doing and how it feeds into the bigger picture. Without that, you may be doomed to fail.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Leaving Room to Say Things Suck — Leadership Lessons from “Ted Lasso”

17 August

A major sign of trust, comfortability, and vulnerability is for someone you lead to be able to say something sucks.

Building A Team
Company Culture
Leadership
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
John Hartley

John Hartley

Senior Engineering Manager at Curology

How to Maintain Happiness: The Underrated Aspect of Creating Team Dynamic

2 August

Jonathan Ducharme, Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord, encourages the importance of a workplace environment that cultivates mental wellness.

Personal Growth
Company Culture
Leadership
Internal Communication
Psychological Safety
Jonathan Ducharme

Jonathan Ducharme

Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord

Scaling a Team in Two Parts: The Product and Manager

2 August

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti, Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart, walks through his experience scaling a team, product and his skills as a leader.

Managing Expectations
Product
Scaling Team
Leadership
Meetings
Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart

Congratulations you're an Engineering Manager! Now What?

29 July

Congratulations, you have just been promoted to an engineering management role. Once you are done celebrating the promotion you have worked hard to earn you might start to ask yourself, now what do I do?

Leadership
New Manager
AJ St. Aubin

AJ St. Aubin

Director Software Engineering at The RepTrak Company

Leading A (Distributed) Team? Foster "Above the Line" Behaviors.

12 July

No online tool will address your team's ability to connect, collaborate, and deliver results if the individuals don't bring the right mindset to work.

Changing A Company
Building A Team
Company Culture
Leadership
Ownership
Ram Singh

Ram Singh

CTO at REAL Engagement & Loyalty