“You are so stupid!”
He slammed the T square across my drawing table in a fit of rage. If his intention was to humiliate me, it worked. I was in the 6th grade in Industrial Arts class and mechanical drawing wasn’t my jam. I’d get behind, hold up “his” class and pay for my mistakes through shame and public humiliation.
The message was consistently reinforced during my formative years. Do what you’re told. Keep your mouth shut. Don’t ask why. Follow the rules. Don’t screw up and you won’t get hurt. I figured out how to survive by following the rules.
We took a few liberties with the rules in college, but when I arrived at my first “real” job I was pretty well conditioned and comfortable with a culture that rewarded you for following the rules and punished you for loosely interpreting them or worse, experimenting with a different way of doing things and making a mistake. “Follow the formula” was a mantra I could buy into. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it was the work agreement that worked for me.
The Fear Is Real
It’s easy to fall in love with the “formula” for success. It’s understandable when we don’t want to deviate from our formative conditioning. It feels safer when someone else gives us the instructions to follow. That was where I felt the most comfortable early in my career. I wanted to follow the rules and avoid failure at all costs.
Fear of failure is a powerful driving force that fuels limiting beliefs and a false narrative that holds us back from reaching our true potential.
In fact, fewer than fifty percent of employees believe that failure is treated as a learning opportunity. As a result, most people aren’t willing to take risks, challenge the status quo, or bring new ideas to the table. The fear of failure and risk of retribution is too strong. So, individuals, teams and organizations get stuck in a certain way of doing business and fall dramatically short of their true potential. Success breeds complacency. Complacency can put you out of business.
Past success is no longer a good indicator of future performance. Disrupt yourself before the marketplace does it for you.
It has taken me years of work to get there personally, but the ability to acknowledge my fear and move directly into it is one of the most coveted skills I developed when I walked away from a safe career I could no longer stomach and embraced the uncertainty of building a business and life I loved.
Ironically, betting on me was actually the safest bet I could’ve made. My only regret is the time and opportunity cost wasted from being so afraid and not making my move much sooner. Turns out that companies, teams and individuals that aren’t willing to place bets, take risks, make mistakes, learn and course-correct aren’t very well positioned to win. That old mantra, “follow the formula,” is precisely the recipe making so many companies vulnerable to disruption.
Tim Ferris delivered a powerful TED Talk on why you should define your fears instead of your goals. It’s good advice for creating the right perspective and mustering up the courage to move past fear and make meaningful progress. I’ll never be fearless, but I absolutely can step forward knowing that what lies on the other side of bold, decisive action in the face of fear is victory.
Twice the last 10 days I’ve sat in meetings where humble, servant leaders created a compelling vision of the future for their teams and encouraged people to take intelligent risks, challenge the status quo and learn from mistakes as they move the business into the future.
One of those leaders went on to to recall a recent rather significant misstep. In his eyes, the mistake was a byproduct of innovating and delivering the future first. When you move fast and make big things happen, you’re going to miss from time to time. The best leaders understand that mistakes happen and they help their teams learn from the experience and move on. Today, more open, collaborative, transparent, relational, risk tolerant, even tempered, experiment oriented, humble leaders are better positioned to stimulate the new ideas and disruptive thinking required to advance a team forward.
Teams stop growing when the leader stops growing.
Why do Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk consistently outperform others? Part of the reason is that they stay in the learning lane, inspire action and conduct experiments along the way. Avoiding failure is not the goal. In fact, mistakes are anticipated. The goal is to recover from mistakes quickly and accelerate the learning curve in the process. It’s important to note that innovation invites mistakes!
How does your organization manage around mistakes?
It might be worth considering. However, a far more important consideration is likely how you manage your own internal dialogue around mistakes. Have you given yourself permission to make mistakes? That also usually means confronting our own fear of what other people think about us.
Let that go! It’s none of your business what anyone else thinks about you and focusing your time and energy there will only serve to inhibit the impact you can make.
Give yourself permission. Go! Do! Learn something new!
Test. Learn. Iterate. Repeat the process. That’s the new formula for success.