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Beth Nilssen
February 9, 2023 / Great Advice

Lessons from a 9-year-old on how to FAIL to succeed

Encouraging an employee to actually fail at something can result in innovative thinking and ultimately, success. The questions is, how many leaders are willing to take the risk?


I was in my nine-year-old daughter’s room when I noticed a shoebox on her dresser labeled with a homemade sign that said “FAILS.” The box, she said, held examples of her artwork that didn’t meet her standards. My heart sank. I want Vivian to focus on her successes, not her perceived failures.


So I started that conversation, the one about how important failure is to our ability to learn. She interrupted me.


“I know, Mom,” she said. “FAIL stands for First Attempt In Learning. You’re going to have to fail a few times before you get it right.”


Whoa. Has she been reading the Harvard Business Review? Because that’s pretty much the same message I got from this article about what it takes to be a failure-tolerant leader.


Failures, according to the philosophy of failure-tolerant leaders, means letting employees learn from their mistakes and encouraging strategic, creative risk-taking without the fear of being punished for a failed effort. The result, goes this line of thinking, will be innovative thinking.


All well and good, but how does the concept relate to a beauty-service industry like Great Clips? After all, customers who come into a walk-in hair salon don’t want a bad haircut, no matter what lesson might be learned by the stylist. (That’s exactly why franchisees who own a Great Clips salon provide their stylists with extensive training before having them step onto a busy salon floor.)


Still, there are parts of this leadership approach that do make sense for our industry and align with the Great Clips franchise business model, especially for franchisees and their hair salon employees, and the camaraderie developed within the franchisee community. Here are a few thoughts I’ve distilled from the many articles out there on failure-tolerant leadership:


Engage and encourage engagement

This is the key takeaway from almost every leadership article I read, and it works for Great Clips at both the salon and regional levels. Great leaders engage with employees and with peer groups. The resulting sense of trust, loyalty, and community contributes to a sense of belonging, satisfaction, and well-being.


·         What does this look like at Great Clips? A simple way to create a culture of trust


Collaborate and create community

When you or your employees feel a part of a larger community, it’s easier to admit failures and seek help in improving performance. Both at the salon level and with peer groups, being part of a team with focused goals increases the odds of success.


·         What does this look like at Great Clips? Show a little R.E.S.P.E.C.T


Move beyond success, failure, and competition

While every motivated employee works toward individual success, pitting members against one another is divisive and counterproductive. Yes, you should always reward success. Use less-than-optimal performance or mistakes as an opportunity for learning. (Of course, repeating the same mistake over and over isn’t acceptable.)


Own your mistakes and FAILs

Apply these principles to yourself, and acknowledge your own mistakes and misjudgments. Employees want to know you, too, are human. Your peers can’t help you learn if you don’t let them know when you’ve messed up.


·         What does this look like at Great Clips? Who 'Ya Gonna Call When Your Franchise Is In Trouble?


The goal of the Great Clips franchisee onboarding programs is to make sure every franchise salon owner has the information and resources they need to learn how to launch and grow their legacy business. And sometimes those best lessons come from mistakes made early in the process, when new franchisees have the chance to see what happened and correct course. (There are plenty of stories from Great Clips franchisees and corporate employees who willingly share the most important things they learned early in their careers! Like here and here .)


My biggest takeaway, however, is what I learned from my own daughter: We all might have the courage to try new things if we accepted that failure—or rather, a First Attempt In Learning—was just part of the learning process. The reward is getting to improve along the way so you can proudly stand back and appreciate your best work.


Want to know more about what it’s like to be a Great Clips franchisee? Give me a call. I’d love to talk with you.


Beth Nilssen

Director of Franchise Development | Great Clips, Inc.
800-947-1143 | [email protected]

Beth Nilssen By Beth Nilssen on February 9, 2023
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