Or, to say it a bit more precisely, when I was really afraid to fail.
I wasn’t a very productive employee. I never took chances. I never stepped out of the narrow little box I was existing in.
I did my job. I did what I was told to do, and nothing more.
Because, if I did something wrong – something unacceptable, or way off the mark……
I’d be in trouble.
Of course, at the time I assumed trouble equated to fired. I was very scared of that. I’d never been fired. I got my first job pretty easily out of college, graduated to the next one seamlessly, and things had just been rolling along.
The thought of being “out in the streets” hit me in a very deep place, where our insecurities live and thrive.
And when you are in that place, it’s paralyzing. You are not YOU – your conscious has been hijacked by your fears.
So the “me” that my boss saw every day wasn’t even close to what he could have seen, if he had just done one very simple thing.
Given me permission to fail.
I really needed that. I needed him to tell me,
“Look, I have high expectations, and I know you can meet them. I also know that in putting the bar so high, you may miss the mark on occasion, or make a mistake or two along the way. That’s OK, as long as we’re honest with each other. Sure, I may not be happy about what happens, but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with YOU. I hired you because I believed in your talent, and your drive, and your enthusiasm. I trust you to do the right things, and learn from your failures. And I’ll be here to help you when you need it, or to give you a kick in the pants too. So just do your best, and let’s make great things happen”
He never did, and so, I was eventually fired, which was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
Because it opened my eyes fully to the need, as a leader, to deal with fear in the workplace head on.
I never wanted to put myself in a position where my team wasn’t realizing their potential because of a fear of failure.
I had to give my team permission to fail.
Perhaps it’s better said this way – People need to know, from YOU, what to expect on the other side of failure.
Because it’s what’s unknown that throws more kindling onto the flames of fear.
So you must talk about it BEFORE it happens, and make sure your team understands what “failure” really means, and what they should expect from you in the wake of it.
It can’t be just trouble on the other side. You won’t get what you want. You’ll get that other “me” that I left behind all those years ago.
And that’s real trouble for you.
(Photo by Bigstock)