Back to resources

Easing the Fear of Failure with Guidance

Psychological Safety
Leadership

24 September, 2021

Brian Flanagan
Brian Flanagan

Head of Product and Growth at Optimity

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

What Makes a Great One-on-One?

25 October

Shubhro Roy, Engineering Manager at Box, establishes a steady rhythm of mentorship by planning bi-weekly one-on-ones with his direct reports.

Meetings
Leadership
Feedback
Shubhro Roy

Shubhro Roy

Engineering Manager at box

Evolving as a Young Tech Founder

25 October

Maulik Bengali, founder and CTO of Ajackus, speaks on how he evolved as a founder & CTO by improving his collaboration, preparation, and core engineering skills.

Internal Communication
Prioritization
Leadership
Collaboration
Cultural Differences
Meetings
Maulik Bengali

Maulik Bengali

CTO at Ajackus

How to Manage an Employee With Depression

14 October

Sachin Shah, CTO, discusses how he dealt with and supported a team member with mental health challenges while handling project deadlines.

Health / Stress / Burn-Out
Juniors
Psychological Safety
Diversity
Internal Communication
Sachin Shah

Sachin Shah

CTO at Self Employeed

Recruitment Strategies to Implement When Hiring Niche Talent

14 October

James Tobias, Senior Product Manager at Mapware, shares how recruiting niche talents is a tough line of work and how to overcome the barriers.

Hiring
Leadership
Collaboration
James Tobias

James Tobias

Senior Product Manager at Mapware

How to Wear a Lot of Hats

13 October

Phillip Derosa, Global Director of QA at OneSpan, has never been afraid to fill in the cracks between departmental duties, often coming up with a brand new intermediary position to occupy during times of need.

Agile / Scrum
Leadership
QA Team
Phillip Derosa

Phillip Derosa

Global Director of QA at OneSpan

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.