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Permission to Fail

It was midway through the annual talent review when his name came up. For 12 years, he'd been on a roll. Unit performance had climbed on his watch, and engagement scores were consistently high. Product lines that underperformed in other regions flourished in his. His recent presentation at the management roundtable about the parallels between pig farming and portfolio management brought the house down.

Yes, he was on an impressive hot streak.

"So, what's next for him?" The question before the management team wasn't whether he was ready for a new assignment; it was, instead, "How big?"

Weeks later, opportunity knocked. A stalwart vice president of a bread-and-butter metropolitan region announced his retirement. Was this the right assignment? Debate ensued. Some worried that the metro vice president position was too big of a stretch. Still, optimism carried the day, and the homegrown star was promoted.

Flash forward 12 months. At the next annual talent review, his name came up again—and for the last time. Management was, let's say, underwhelmed by his performance as regional vice president. His one-year tenure included a fumbled product launch and wide-of-the-mark sales projections. What's more, colleagues complained about his reluctance to ask for help, and his demure disposition was tagged as naïve. His hot streak had gone cold, so he was reassigned—and left the company within the year.

What happened? How did such a strong player become dispensable so quickly? What could have been done to prevent the failure?

The answers to those questions are at the heart of what it takes to grow leaders, and few of them are easy. In a world where complex challenges routinely outstrip the capabilities of leaders entrusted to conquer them, there can be no growth if leaders do not have support and permission to fail. Capitalizing on failure is a powerful growth mechanism, and for most, an organizational necessity—one that often proves difficult to put into practice.

Read why leaders need "permission to fail" in Matt Paese's full article in TD magazine.

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