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IT Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Failure

By Rich Hein, CIO
January 06, 2014 12:51 PM ET

CIO - In the world of IT, things can and will go wrong. Failure can come from a number of things such as rushing to get too much done in a single project instead of breaking it down into smaller, more manageable projects. It can come from not allowing enough lead time for developers to do their part on the back-end or even from a consultant or vendor that led you down the wrong path.

Data security issues in the workplace

Whatever the case, failure does happen; it's to be expected and as the saying goes life is "10 percent what happens to you 90 percent how you react to it." Failure doesn't have to be a negative. With the right attitudes and processes in place it can be educational, informative and sometimes transformative.

You know from a logical perspective that you should learn from your mistakes. That is drilled into many of us beginning in childhood. The problem, according to experts, is that in the corporate world, a lot of companies don't handle failure well. They don't have adequate processes in place to examine why something failed, but that is a huge necessary part of the learning process.

"Looking back over the past 15 years of our [IT & Tech] industry I didn't see enough thorough, objective reporting on these kinds of failures to help people like myself in the trenches. I thought it was so important to learn these lessons that I spent two years researching and writing the case studies in my book. I selfishly wanted practical guidelines based on actual industry failures that I could use in my own work," says Victor Lombardi, Rosenfeld Media consultant and author of Why We Fail.

In this world if you can't learn from your mistakes you are doomed to repeat them. In the business world, if you make the same mistakes a few times you could be looking for another career. Steve Jobs had failures in his career before he changed the game as did Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, Tesla Motors and PayPal.

What separates bad leaders from good leaders and possibly good leaders from visionary leaders is their ability to gain insight from those failures that will help them succeed the next time around. These tips from experts to help you make the most of bad situation and possibly avoid future IT project failures.

Create a Safe-to-Fail Environment

For large complex companies, learning and evolving can be a slow road. Behavior has to change at a myriad of levels. In order for IT to keep pace and deliver what the business needs to succeed you've got to empower your team to try new things.

The problem arises when new things don't work out and you or your organization are more focused on placing blame then solving the problems at hand. How willing and enthusiastic will workers be to step out of the normal routine? The answer is, not very, so the question becomes, do you as an IT leader create an environment where people on your team feel comfortable to speak up and voice objections large or small?

"A safe-to-fail environment by design encourages creativity, risk-taking ability and innovation. It allows employees to experiment with new ideas and provides an environment where failure is an acceptable outcome. At NutriSavings and Edenred, we actively promote innovation and help our colleagues take calculated risks to ensure on-going learning," says Niraj Jetly, senior vice president-COO & CIO of NutriSavings LLC.

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