Failure and Leadership

Columns - editor’s note

September 16, 2022

This year’s Leadership Award recipients couldn’t have been more different from one another. First, nearly 35 years separated them in age. One grew up in New England while the other hailed from England. As a young man, one gained a love for the outdoors on a farm, while the other got his first taste of turf on a sports field. One started his company from scratch, while the other took over the family business.

However, Charles Glossop and Mark Aquilino share many of the key traits that make them quality leaders in the snow and ice management industry. Sure, both are committed to bettering their industry, as well as strengthening and improving the communities they call home. It’s at the business level that these two seemingly different professionals are cut from the same cloth.

For one, they both recognize solid leadership means putting people first and in the right positions to succeed, especially if it fills a gaping hole in their own skill set or expertise. Likewise, both are committed to the philosophy that rising tides raise all boats, so they ensure those around them have the tools, the training, and the guidance to succeed both in their personal and professional development.

But what I found most intriguing – and perhaps lacking in the average leader – is how they tolerate and accept that errors and mistakes are going to happen, and they view failure as part of everyone’s growth process.

In fact, both agree leaders must encourage their people to make decisions on their own, whether they’re right or wrong. “If you micromanage, you’ll never grow your organization. So, from a leadership standpoint, you must allow others to make mistakes so they can grow and develop. If you correct them or correct the team or criticize them for making or not making a decision, nothing will ever happen, and those individuals will never grow. Instead, they’ll always be looking over their shoulders to see what the boss is going to say at the end of the day.”

Aquilino agrees and takes this leadership concept further: “The people I’m looking for need to be open on receiving advice and learning how they can be better, who may not have the most experience but are looking to elevate their careers and will give it everything they’ve got. Once we find that it almost becomes contagious within your organization.”

Now, there are “mistakes” and there are MISTAKES. We never want to see people flounder – operating equipment incorrectly, not following defined procedures, conducting themselves in unsafe manners, or embarrassing themselves and your brand in the community or in front of clients. This is where thorough training comes in, which ultimately falls upon your shoulders (and is a topic for another day).

Instead, you want to encourage your people to seek out ways to be more efficient, or more cost effective, or to experiment with methodologies that’ll make them more effective in the field. You must encourage employees – whether members of your leadership team or a guy shoveling sidewalks – to come to you with new ideas and suggestions without the fear of repercussions, being ridiculed, or discounted.

Remember, good employees make mistakes, but great leaders manage through and even encourage them. It’s an alien concept for most owners and managers to allow people the freedom to make mistakes. But it’s through these mistakes that the next innovation, the next cost savings, even the next business opportunity sprouts.

Effective leaders champion a work environment without fear of failure. So, what kind of leader are you going to be this winter?