Leading for Failure

Dr Victoria Herrington1, Mr Stuart Bartels, Mr Andy Combes

1AIPM, Manly, Australia


Our police leaders are risk averse. At least that is the conventional wisdom. We know that experimentation is essential for leadership. Whether it is as part of a randomised control trial testing what works, or part of the leadership work required to make progress on complex problems. Leaders need to be comfortable taking risks, and comfortable with the possibility of failure. But our organisations are not structured that way. Our systems reward and sanction mean many experiments are simply ‘doomed to succeed’.

Evidence based policing has done much to normalise experimentation in the profession. It has shown us the value of recognising that some good ideas simply do not work. In this short insight paper we discuss the nascent shift in policing’s relationship with failure, and how this can be translated across our leadership work. Being comfortable with the possibility of failure is an essential skill for contemporary leaders, yet this must be balanced against the need for public accountability. How can we enable responsible experimentation? How do leaders do this? What are the skills leaders need? How can organisations (re)structure sanctions and rewards to support this? Drawing on our work with senior leaders across the world we provide a framework for better understanding experimentation – and failure – in leadership.


Vicki is an experienced leader committed to translating knowledge into action and impact, evidenced through a career in applied, academic, and neo-academic settings at the nexus of public safety and social justice.

Recognizing the value of diversity in thought, ideas, and voices, she builds and connects coalitions of knowledge workers and practitioners to make progress on complex social problems. Using passion and drive, she works to improve the lives of people around the world through better public safety. She likes to think of herself as a weaver of insights, a connector of agents, and a communicator of complexity.