Letting Leaders Fail

Letting Leaders Fail

During the course of an active career, we encounter numerous situations where we need to stand our ground in order to be taken seriously for any type of advancement.

Like you, I’ve faced my fair share of those moments. However, when it came to strategic communications, I really did know a lot from the get-go. And I had the education and experience to back me up.

But here’s where I always went wrong: Anytime a leader disagreed with one of my brilliant ideas, I’d fight them tooth and nail, insisting they fall in line with my thinking or suffer dire consequences. Practically beating my head against the wall, I’d do whatever I could to convince them my way was the best way—the only way.

The trouble was, sometimes they refused to listen and all I did by arguing was drive them further away from my idea, which is why I learned a three-step process for allowing leaders to fail.

  1. Explain what’s at risk. Never let someone go down the wrong path without a warning. Try saying something like “Here’s what’s at risk if you do that” and remind them of the trouble they’re likely to encounter if they persist.
  2. Let go. Make it clear that you don’t agree with the decision being made and then get out of the way. It’s easier to convince them to revisit your plan once they’ve felt the sting of their wrong choices.
  3. Give up the grudge. Gloating and “I told you so” have no place in a professional arena—but helping a leader find a positive way forward does.

Successful people often say they learned more from their failures than their victories. And those are the people who can teach us the most about doing things right.


The next time one of your leaders, clients or vendors wants to make a wrong move—and you can’t talk them out of it—let them stumble. Just have a backup plan ready to help them recover.

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