Helen Green

Designing Success

Received wisdom says that it’s easy to lead in the good times and it is only when times get tough that a true leader comes to the fore.

Actually, received wisdom may well be wrong in this as leading well in the good times brings its own challenges, not least of which is finding ways to maximise the opportunities available.

But whether in good times or bad, one of the greatest tests of a leader is the way in which they respond when something goes wrong. Playing the blame game may seem like a good idea at the time but in the long term that approach is only going to make employees afraid to try and afraid to experiment.

On the other hand, leaders who see failure simply in terms of a learning point are those who are far more likely to generate a culture of innovation and experimentation which will lead to greater success in the future. Take the European space agency (ESA) director-general Jan Woerner for example. As it looks increasingly likely that the ESA’s latest Mars probe has been lost to a crash landing, Jan Woerner commented that the fact that the probe returned 80% of its telemetry could be seen as a success.

In this instance, knowing what worked as well as knowing what didn’t work will provide vital data which can be used in preparing for the 2021 Exomars mission. The popular saying may be that success breeds success but sometimes the greatest success comes from a leader who can help their people to learn from failure.