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The Leadership Paradox: Balancing Autonomy and Guidance

In the ever-evolving landscape of leadership development, there lies many thoughts and opinions about leadership styles. In modern business, these styles vary significantly, ranging from hands-on micromanagement to a more laissez-faire approach. Many people are familiar with the idea that being too hands-on is harmful and that micromanagement is not the best proactive approach. But there exists a lesser-known yet equally problematic counterpart: the peril of being too hands-off as a leader. In this case, a leader swings too far the other way. With the intention of offering a lot of autonomy to show they have trust in their team members, they have a propensity to unload too many decisions without proper training and guidance. This approach, while well intentioned, can result in teams learning exclusively from mistakes, and inadvertently hinders an organization’s growth and potential for success.

It makes some sense though as leaders are often encouraged to allow employees the space to learn from their mistakes, believing that failure can be an invaluable teacher. And while learning from mistakes undoubtedly holds merit, a leader who solely fosters this aspect is missing a critical opportunity – to help employees learn from their successes. When leaders neglect to harness the power of victories, they deprive their organization of invaluable insights.

The reactive nature of learning from failures also poses a challenge – we all know “you can’t change the past.” Consequently, an organization that primarily adopts a retroactive approach creates a high likelihood they will continue to see more mistakes, stalling progress and hampering growth. Instead, a proactive approach to learning that encompasses both successes and failures can provide a more well-rounded perspective and enable a more resilient response to challenges. And sounds way more fun, if you ask me.

By exploring the significance of learning from successes alongside failures, we uncover the profound impact this balanced approach can have on team performance, employee well-being, and organizational growth.

  1. Learning from Success: Understanding the factors that contributed to success provides valuable insights allowing teams to better replicate these positive outcomes. By acknowledging and analyzing success (rather than just learning why something went sideways), leaders can reinforce effective strategies, build employee confidence, and inspire a culture of continuous improvement. Can I get a “whoop! whoop!”
  2. A Proactive Approach: While understanding and addressing failures is crucial for improvement, it should not be the sole basis for decision-making. Leaders must actively seek out success stories within their organization, identify patterns, and apply them to various aspects of the business. Proactively learning from successes allows for a more adaptable and forward-thinking approach. Let me hear you “yeehaw!”
  3. Innovation and Creativity: When employees are not given the opportunity to learn from their successes they may become risk-averse, fearing failure and avoiding potential growth opportunities. Leaders must strike a balance between providing guidance and autonomy to foster an environment where creativity thrives and new ideas are welcomed. Oh you betcha! [insert Minnesotan accent]
  4. Nurturing a Growth Mindset: A growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through a commitment to ongoing learning. By recognizing and learning from successes, employees are more likely to adopt a growth mindset leading to increased motivation, resiliency, and a willingness to take on challenges. Boom-shaka-laka!
  5. Trust and Employee Engagement: A hands-off leadership style that fails to recognize successes can lead to disengagement and decreased productivity among employees. When employees feel valued and appreciated for their contributions (successes), they are more likely to be engaged and committed to the organization’s long-term outcomes. It also establishes a level of trust, and trust is the foundation of any successful organization. Holllaaaaa!!


Being a hands-off leader can be beneficial in empowering employees and fostering autonomy, but it should not be at the expense of recognizing and learning from successes.

As we navigate the complexities of leadership, we can embrace success as a catalyst for growth. Learning from both successes and failures creates a well-rounded approach to leadership, propelling the organization forward with valuable insights and fostering a culture of growth, innovation, and trust. By striking a balance between providing guidance and autonomy and actively acknowledging successes, leaders can pave the way for their organization’s continued prosperity.


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