“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.” – Steve Jobs

Most of my projects tend to be data related (Data Warehousing, Data Integration, Big Data, and the like) and most of those projects are in large corporations – principally in finance, telecoms, government and energy.

However, some things I have learned over the years translate very well into practical, timeless and universal truths that are applicable across a wide range of disciplines and domains. For example, the art of knowing when to fail.

We are taught from early on to abhor failure. However, a good leader should know where, when, why and how to fail, and how to fail well.

Management success isn’t all about succeeding or giving others the impression that we embody the very essence of complete and utter stubborn single-mindedness. In particular, a leader should know that if a project is doomed to failure then it should fail sooner rather than later.

Most leaders, especially of the project management kind, are almost invariably afraid to admit the truth when things are going wrong. The tendency is for managers to carry-on regardless of the signals and to cultivate an impervious indifference to the facts, facts that are clearly telling them to either stop a project or to freeze a project, and then to only continue after carrying out a full and impartial project assessment and arriving at a coherent, rational and verifiable decision to actually continue.

This willful folly of ignoring the ‘elephants in the room’ is frequently interpreted as strong and courageous leadership. It is not. It is the height of bad leadership. In fact, it’s frequently caused by a complete absence of leadership, and typically a lack of real leadership all along the management ‘value chain’.

In my opinion, the worst-case management scenario of all is when you get lions lead by donkeys, especially when the donkeys try and bury their leadership and management incompetence by cloaking it in arrogance, excessive aggressiveness and the smoke and mirrors of the blame-game.

Knowing when to fail, when to retreat, reassess and change strategies, tactics and operational decisions, is not weak management, it is true leadership.

Also, remember this. When your project fails, because it has to fail, make the failure be as elegant as possible, and make absolutely sure that you protect your project team members and stakeholders to the max.

Many thanks for reading.

As always, please share your questions, views and criticisms on this piece using the comment box below. I frequently write about strategy, organisational, leadership and information technology topics, trends and tendencies. You are more than welcome to keep up with my posts by clicking the ‘Follow’ link and perhaps even send me a LinkedIn invite. Also, feel free to connect via Twitter,Facebook and the Cambriano Energy website.

For more on this and other topics, check out my really old posts: