Fail Forward, Fail Fast, Fail Fruitfully

How many people can say that they danced around their living room upon hearing that they would be managing a staff of 13,000 people?  That’s exactly what Martha Johnson did when she found out she was nominated to be the administrator of the General Service Administration (GSA).  Johnson was nominated back in 2009 and was appointed on February 7, 2010.  Martha has experience within the GSA which gives her an advantage on improving processes within the agency.  When news of her returning to the GSA got out, retired workers from the agency said they would return to GSA now that she was back. 

In her tenure, Johnson has led a presidential transition agency review team for GSA, served as GSA chief of staff, and helped direct a change in corporate culture within a 90,000 person organization.  She has also directed the GSA in becoming the second leading agency for enabling government telework, an effort that has been top of mind across the government.

Martha has implemented a management tool called “slams” that she hopes will help empower people to make decisions more efficiently.  The concept involves a leader gathering all the people involved in making a particular decision in one room, closing the door, and directing everyone to solve the problem.   She has also started to conduct slams online and hopes to continue using this process to lead her team.  “You make a decision, then you have to tell 15 people and they have to tell 15 more, and you have to articulate it all over the place,” she says.  “I believe you need to be right next to the people making those decisions in real time so you don’t stall on making the decisions collectively.” 

A key strategic leadership skill she feels all leaders must have is clarity when they are working in their organization and when they are working on their organization. “Fail forward, fail fast and fail fruitfully, because you never learn or innovate if you always do it right,” Johnson says.  The Ken Blanchard Companies mirrors that belief.  They define leadership as the capacity to influence others by unleashing their power and potential to impact the greater good.  When leadership focuses only on goal accomplishment, it becomes only about results.  Leaders need to take the approach of what is best for all involved.  Leading is about serving; it is not about personal gain or goal accomplishment.  Leadership should have a much higher purpose.

What skills do you possess as a leader that instill great leadership within your agency?

Watch this short clip about how great leaders create productive conversations with their people.


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