Friday, December 7, 2012

Staying on the Cutting Edge Series: Permission to Fail

     So far in this series we have covered several reasons why people don’t like to change. The last reason that I am going to cover is failure. In a changing situation, one of the biggest worries for people is the simple fact that they could fail in the change to their industry.

This fear of failure actually ties back into the same reason given in my last post, Change Is Inevitable. The brain seeks out safety and any fear causes it stress. A brain under stress doesn’t function as well as a brain that is stress free. Fear of failure is a common fear with everyone going through a change. Everyone has self doubts about whether or not they can be successful in a new environment. Even if the new environment is in the old job! How do a leader and the organization overcome a fear of failure? My opinion is that it has more to do with a person’s perspective than it does with anything else.

As leaders we have to establish an environment that allows people to feel safe if they fail. Giving people permission to fail sounds easy enough, but if you are in an industry that holds high accountability it can be a little tricky to navigate. The last message you want to send is that the leader is just fine with mistakes. The message should be more like, We are doing our very best to deal with the change in our industry. If mistakes are made, we will learn from them and move in a positive direction.

One of the best principals I had in my career as a teacher had a philosophy that has always stuck with me. He said, “Most mistakes or problems can be fixed”. After twenty-three years of being in education, I’ve found that he was right. With one exception, most everything can be fixed. The damage can be repaired if the people participating have the willingness and right attitude to take the necessary steps to make the situation go from bad to better.

In my experiences, death is the one exception that makes it difficult to fix any problems or mistakes. When a person has passed away, there is no opportunity for something to be done by that individual. If the problem is going to be fixed, it will have to be by someone else, someone willing to step into the deceased person’s shoes. (As a side note, depending on where you stand spiritually, death can be viewed as a beginning instead of an end. This beginning can also last for eternity.)

  "Make failure your teacher, not your undertaker." Zig Ziglar

This past weekend I took my son, along with a co-worker and his son, to a Kansas City Chiefs football game. Since both of the teams playing had a losing record, I didn’t think there would be much attention from the local and national media. It turns out this game became a national story. The game was thrust into the national spotlight because of two deaths. The morning before the game the Chiefs starting linebacker Jovan Belcher, for reasons we probably will never know, murdered his wife Kasandra Perkins and then took his own life. In doing so he left his three-month-old daughter as an orphan. There is no way to repair this situation. This little girl will never again have her father and mother in her life.

The damage has been done and can’t be changed for Jovan and Kasandra. The circumstances and events of that night don’t, however, have to define their daughter’s life. As painful as death can be, there can still be hope if someone or several someones are willing to stand in the gap and repair the mistake of her father. The Kansas City Chief players are considering starting a college fund to help with college expenses. What will others do?

To be successful in failure is a matter of perspective. If you have failed as a leader or the organization that you lead has failed, the best thing you have going for you is the next day. With the right attitude and assistance, the next day brings an opportunity to recover and over time get better. Share this bit of good news with everyone in your organization. Share it with more than words. Share it by the way you react to events. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” I am hoping the example starts with me in my organization. I hope it starts with you in yours.

Great video on "Famous Failures"