“Set-up-to-Fail,” Shame on You, Bad for All – “Set-up-to-Succeed,” Good on You, Good for All

Here are your two choices.

You can set someone up to succeed.
You can set someone up to fail.

In Encouraging the Heart, Kouzes and Posner describe the danger of the “Set-up-to-fail” syndrome.

The set-up-to-fail syndrome “is self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing – it is the quintessential vicious circle…” 
High expectations or low expectations both influence other people’s performance.  Only high expectations have a positive impact on actions and on feelings about oneself.  Only high expectations can encourage the heart. 

“Set-up-to-fail.”  Just the phrase itself communicates almost everything you need to know.  When you set up someone to fail, you do not provide:  resources; coaching; mid-course corrections; basic need-to-know information; simple encouragement.  You say to people “go do this,” and then you leave them on their own.  If they succeed, you might reward them.  If they fail, you blame them.

But you have set them up to fail.  And when they fail, shame on you at least as much as shame on them.

But, when you set them up to succeed, you give them clear directions, but only with and after their input.   You make sure they have the resources they need.  If they do not know how to “do” part of the assignment, you get them training.  And then, you check in, not as a policeman looking for violations, but as a coach.  And when they succeed, which is now far more likely, you celebrate together even as you reward their success.

The choice really is yours.  Are you setting people up to succeed, or to fail?  And, by the way, if you are setting them up to fail, you are setting yourself up to fail.


•  note – of all the books I have presented over the last 13 years, it is increasingly clear that the one I go back to most often is Encouraging the Heart:  A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner.  You can order my synopsis of this great and useful book, with audio + handout, from our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

(Note:  this is a recording from a web presentation from a few years ago – it was not recorded at our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis gathering.  The audio is clearly understandable, but not quite the quality, or the “feel,” of some more recent presentations. – Read the faqs on the 15minutebusinessbooks site to get the scoop on the circumstances behind the recordings through the years).

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