How to coach employees through failure

Throughout our careers, we will experience failure. I’ve previously shared how failure can be good for us: We learn from our mistakes and it can make us more empathetic. But from a leadership standpoint, how can we guide our employees through challenges and failure?

Leadership guru Dan Rockwell offers the “plate-drop challenge” to help leaders think through these situations. Part of our responsibility as leaders is to push people – and ultimately our organizations – to reach their full potential.

Each year, we extend goals to achieve more growth, which means asking people to take on more; but as you allocate more responsibility to employees, you might see other “plates” start to wobble.

Here are Rockwell’s recommendations when this happens:

  1. Don’t spin plates with them. Most of us get the urge to step in and fix problems when we see them arise. While this might prevent failure in the short term, it hinders employees’ ability to learn from these situations and could lead to more problems down the road. If it’s approaching crisis-level, leaders should do what they can to avert it, but also consider what contributed to its escalation in the first place.


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