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  • Writer's pictureMike Bensi

How much is too much?

I have a friend who is a physician. When I bring up the mantra of "fail fast and fail often", her response is that the patient would be dead - fast - if she failed.

And then she rolls her eyes at me for even mentioning said mantra.

Whether or not we deal with life or death situations like my friend, leaders do have to balance the tension between growing and encouraging their teams to try new things versus deciding how much is too much failure. Here are four areas to help with that decision and even help create the space for innovation with your team:


I commonly find two areas within risk-taking; (1) the task that involves the risk and (2) the decision that was made to take the risk. If task-focused, not all of our jobs involve life or death - even if it may feel like that at times. To help others understand the risk ahead of time, you may need to communicate the level of risk tolerated. Not making commission, if sales focused. Not hitting deadlines, if project focused.

When it involves decision making, understand whether the employee made a decision to take an unnecessary risk. I have a client who manufactures medical devices. An employee who decided to skip a step within his company's documented set of processes took an unnecessary level of risk.


Making mistakes and going through failures are learning opportunities - as long as we own and accept that learning. By owning a mistake and learning from it, an employee comes forward and acknowledges the mistake she made. She owns the mistake by saying how she will make it right - or the desire to make it right.

Compare that to an employee who doesn't share his mistake. Or he tries to cover it up. When confronted, he blames and points fingers.


I know a CEO who tells his team to "make new mistakes". In those words he is acknowledging that is OK to make a mistake, provided you learn from it - and don't do it again. At the same time, the company is also making it clear that repeating the same mistake is not OK and there will be consequences


Regardless of what happens in the above, many leaders may see value in maintaining the relationship with the employee. You may see this in situations where the person is in the "wrong seat" but is still the "right person".

Unfortunately, you also hear this when you a CEO says "But I told Tom over and over again to stop making those comments to his female employees." Even when the data is clear that this person has made too many mistakes, we may still hang on to the relationship longer than we should even when it isn't a fit to continue working together.

Following these areas can help create the space for employees to try new things - without putting the company or your clients in danger.

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