Let’s start by defining failure in engineering leadership. Not every deviation from plans qualifies as a failure. Sometimes clients don’t meet their commitments, or we lack time to respond promptly. For instance, an overnight request to restart production in the early morning can easily turn into a joint failure due to misaligned schedules. It’s a significant responsibility for managers, including myself.
Failure takes various forms and sizes. A prominent indicator is when clients or projects fall short of expectations. Learning from these bumps drives experience and growth, which is crucial for specialists’ development. Yet, attitudes toward failure differ across cultures. In my experience, Eastern European culture shuns failure, while American culture views it as a stepping stone. A seasoned entrepreneur starting the fifth venture after four failures is hailed in the U.S. but stigmatized in Eastern Europe.
What distinguishes a senior from a junior? Seniors have navigated the mistakes juniors will face. Learning from others’ experiences sounds good but pales compared to personal learning, a quintessentially human trait. Admitting mistakes is tough; no one enjoys it. Failures stem from poor foresight, often due to inexperience. Testing experience aids me in preempting overlooked errors and preventing immediate consequences. Timely communication here is crucial.
Failure isn’t about blame. This applies to negative feedback rules too. It’s counterproductive to berate a team with unconstructive feedback. Constructive feedback benefits the team and clients alike. Staying calm is the initial step. Develop a shared communication strategy. Inform the team and client honestly without assigning blame. Avoid collective responsibility; managers should step in when necessary, but it’s rarely required.
Inform the client calmly, focusing on what happened and why, avoiding finger-pointing. Clients desire action plans — how we’ll fix it and prevent a recurrence. This reassures clients. Often, this is sufficient as clients understand that mistakes are part of the process. Addressing recurring problems with calmness shows reliability. Such incidents are opportunities for process enhancement and proving our problem-solving prowess.