Do your failures have a bigger effect on how you operate within the business than your successes? Your reaction to failure says a lot about your culture. If you’d like a culture where employees are empowered to be innovative and accountable for their results, keep reading.

Failure is a natural part of business and elicits a very natural reaction from the person that experiences it.

However, if you have a “Point them Out” reaction where you want to immediately point out who is the cause of this failure so you can come down with a heavy fist, you should consider the culture that you’re creating for the rest of your team.

The knee-jerk reaction to find blame and identify who is responsible for any mistake or failure in an organization drains a company and its leader of his or her power.

If this reaction describes yourself, I’d like you to ask yourself when pointing the blame at someone, how many fingers are pointing back at yourself?

As business owners, we typically have a bit more control over the situation than we allow ourselves to believe. This means our reaction to the situation can greatly affect how the team moves forward from this situation.

The Harvard Business Review reported why a culture of an organization and willingness to learn from failure is powerful.

“The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible. Yet organizations that do it well are extraordinarily rare. This gap is not due to a lack of commitment to learning” (Edmondson, 2011).  Professor Edmondson identifies a range of “failures” that help illustrate that all failures are not all bad.

While there are instances where a leader needs to find out the root cause and who is directly responsible for a failure to discover what processes broke down, not every mistake or failure requires intensive dissection. In Professor Edmondson’s articles, she outlines the spectrum of failures;


  • Deviance
  • Inattention
  • Lack of Ability


  • Process Inadequacy
  • Task Challenge
  • Process Complexity


  • Uncertainty
  • Hypothesis Testing
  • Exploratory Testing

Demonstrating a willingness to acknowledge and accept responsibility for mistakes is a powerful tool. Sharing the learning of any misstep or failure not only shows a leader’s humanity, it allows others to learn. It reinforces wanted behavior and diminishes the stigma of making mistakes.

Creating an environment where mistakes (within the praiseworthy zone) are seen as positive is difficult. Supporting a company culture of learning, however, can be transformational for any company. Instead of focusing on who did what, focusing on what led to the outcome and how to improve processes and systems to avoid the same error in the future, can energize and strengthen your organization.