All successful people know that failure is a necessary part of growth and innovation. From failure comes feedback and from feedback comes learning, iteration, adaptation and building new conceptual and physical models. In our society failure is often not tolerated – we have an anti-failure bias and so we avoid setting up destabilising and disruptive situations.
The growth edge for learning and development (horizontal skills learning and vertical cognitive development) only occurs when we have disequilibrium – a tension between where we are and where we want to be. As a leader it takes courage and trust to allow and encourage disequilibrium and destabilising situations within teams and across the organisation that fosters generative learning and development. To do this effectively we need to set up a climate of trust and encourage and enable people to be able to test out, speak up, and make mistakes. We need to encourage experimentation, critical inquiry, critical debate and accept failures without judgment as a necessary part of the process.
One vitally important factor in the success of these growth initiatives is setting up holding environments – these are “safe or sacred spaces” within which conflict, chaos, confusion, challenge and struggle with complex issues and problems can occur. Holding environments are designed to take people out of their comfort zone and create disequilibrium without being too overwhelming – enabling individuals and groups to engage in deep dialogue to mobilise them to adaptive growth and innovative outcomes.
We know that successful people have more failures, take more risks (calculated and managed) and learn quickly. As a leader there is always a tension between setting the benchmark for excellence, delivering outcomes and supporting people in their growth, and this includes ourselves. This often requires us to have courage and become vulnerable. Courage harnesses our heart, mind, spirit and intestinal fortitude (guts). The starting place is to turn the mirror inwards and ask ourselves – what am I not seeing about myself? What do I need to grow to be the next version of my best me? And ask this of other people too – especially of those who will not just placate you and remain diplomatic and tell you the niceties of what they think you want to hear. We need to encourage them to be honest by supporting them to hold a courageous conversation without repercussions.
Simultaneously we need to be developing others. This means we will often need to facilitate courageous conversations. Courageous conversations create dialogue which is designed to resolve competing priorities or beliefs to a more resourceful outcome or result while preserving the relationship. These conversations take courage, insight and a willingness to suspend judgment and learn together. When all levels of an organisation work together with a shared vision creating disruption becomes the next opportunity for growth – and the possibilities become endless.