In recent years it has become more and more apparent that people are the capital for success. It is not expertise alone; it is not tools or structures that make a project a success. It is the people who work together within teams. This is one reason why managing relationships with a new leadership focus has become so established – especially in light of how much the complexity of day-to-day work has increased. It should come as no surprise that more mistakes can happen then. But how to deal with them?

Learning from successes

Almost like a mantra of prayer, it is repeated from day to day, from project to project, how good it is to learn from ones mistakes. That’s right! But it is often forgotten that one can also learn from successes. Consider: What works well? What should not be changed; what should even be strengthened?

Shameless error competence

Learning from mistakes is always allowed. But how is this possible? By looking at mistakes honestly and without shame. By taking away the fear from employees of breaking new ground and possibly making mistakes in the end. If you are afraid of mistakes, you probably want to cover them up. Neither the person who caused it nor the organization as a whole can learn from it. Also, avoidable mistakes often have a hidden learning benefit. All too often, human error is caused by far too complicated processes that need to be simplified. Simplified processes are often the best error prevention.

How crisis competence becomes a resource for the future

Mistakes can lead to crises. Those who have survived a crisis are strengthened in their crisis competence. With each new crisis, companies in particular can build on their experience and thus face future challenges with greater strength. In this way, crisis competence becomes a central resource for the future.

The great idea for a promising future

Icarus crashed when he flew too high and came too close to the sun. Delusions of grandeur can lead to problems. In our experience, however, it is not the unrealistic visions that lead to problems and crises in a company. Rather, it is the lack of inspiration regarding a promising future that robs people of their motivation.

In his Golden Circle approach, Simon Sinek talks about putting the »WHY« in the center of leadership. With regard to marketing, he says: “People don’t buy WHAT you do – but WHY you do it!” With regard to leadership, this means: “People don’t follow you because of WHAT you do – but WHY you do it!” This means: Which »big idea« should the employee follow? What is the attractive goal – the promising future – that the company, the department, the employee is supposed to be heading for?

Incremental and continuous improvement instead of the search for problem causes

The great, promising future is an important motivator. It is equally important however, to direct one’s attention pragmatically to the next step ahead. If you are at position 3 on a scale from 0 (very bad) to 10 (great), then the next step is not going for the 10. Rather, it is about improving to position 4 or 5 on the scale and then continuing from there. Step by step.

This requires a new mindset – shifting from problem thinking to seeking workable improvements. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson has formulated that one does not have to know what is »good« in order to know what is »better« – because we learn mainly through comparison, by noticing the relevant difference. Thinking in incremental improvements therefore calls for a pause in the search for the causes of problems and instead for relying on the small steps and improvements that work. And it also means: If something doesn’t work – stop it and try something else!

It all starts with leadership

A culture of error tolerance, crisis competence, inspiration for the future, thinking in terms of improvements – all this starts with the individual. In organizations, it starts with the individuals who lead. One key enabler for improving one’s own leadership is the solution-focusing approach. With a solution-focusing leadership strengths are strengthened, learning from mistakes as well as from successes becomes possible, inspirations and motivation can be promoted.

Why not »solution-focused« leadership?

In contrast to the usual terminology in the literature, we speak of a solution-focusing approach (cf. Tom Andreas) in order to emphasize the process of focusing. It is not about fixing on a supposed solution, but rather about practicing an attitude that creates solutions. As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein freely put it: The solution to a problem can be noticed by its disappearance – or in other words by its resolution. In this respect, the solution-focusing approach often has a problem-solving effect. And it is surprisingly relieving and liberating.

Solution-focusing leadership hands-on

Ask yourself as a solution-focusing leader:

  • What works well already? What can one build on?
  • Which strengths, talents, and competencies can I recognize in others? And how can I communicate this in an authentic and engaging way? This is about real feedback – not adulation!
  • How can I give and show my attention? Authentic attention is often worth more than money for employees.
  • If something rarely works well: Under what conditions does it work well?

We wish you every success in renewing your leadership – and would like to conclude by referring to the other topics surrounding the blog series »Leadership of the Future«.

Photo credits: © | Ruslan Grumble