By Josh Rossmeisl
“You have 1 year to make 100 mistakes or you’re fired!” This was an expectation I implemented several years ago and shared at orientation with all new leaders. I asked them to write them down so we can reflect in a year and see how much they’ve grown. My only rules were “show up on time” and “be coachable”.
Regardless of whether they were hired from outside or promoted from within, a mindset existed within new leaders where they have zero blemishes on their record and/or they were the best at their job. The whole reason they got hired or promoted in the first place is because they were pretty awesome, right?
“Don’t screw this up” is all they keep saying to themselves as they work to maintain the perception they believe everyone has of them. This natural “imposter syndrome” creates a powerful force that has them so nervous to screw up that they don’t ask questions or seek clarity for fear that they will be “discovered”. I wish they only knew that I didn’t hire them for what they did in the past, but for what I believe they will do in the future.
Preservation of their “perfection” is valued more than true growth. They simply stay in their comfort zone and don’t really learn or challenge themselves, missing out on great opportunities to develop empathy which is a key skill needed to teach and mentor others. I believe there is irony here as perfection is often misunderstood as something that needs to be maintained. However, perfecting something is constantly working to refine and improve something to its best state. The act of perfecting is actually a growth process!
Sadly, it’s not their fault they are wired like this. There are still many cultures where pointing out mistakes is what gets you ahead. Even education, in many cases, is about preserving a grade. Mistakes are shamed and punished, and leaders are even rewarded for throwing those who screw up under the bus.
While “Statler and Waldorf” sit in the comfort of the balcony waiting for you to screw up so they can get some laughs, just remember that they are puppets that are only doing what they’ve been taught. They should be seen as the motivation of who not to become.
What if we created a culture where mistakes were encouraged?
What if these new leaders weren’t tip-toeing around, nervous about protecting their fragile egos? What if we viewed them as imperfect people on a journey to improve rather than widgets put in place to do a job?
I choose to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. I choose to praise vulnerability, honesty, integrity and self-awareness. Those who hide from “hard things” and value their ego more than these things are not leaders to begin with and can take their “pristine” resumes elsewhere.
Choosing to walk the tightrope outside of your comfort happens when you feel protected. When you know you have a safety net of support. Psychological safety perpetuates more growth than carrots and sticks. Leaders need to be that net for their teams. The expectation of mistakes, and that I will reflect on them with them, provides this very net.
Greatness happens when a leader chooses to leave their comfort zone. They become more well rounded as they diversify their knowledge. They become more confident as they learn that they aren’t made of glass. They become adaptable and gritty as they begin to embrace challenging situations, no longer paralyzed by the possibility of a less than desirable outcome.
Every one of us has failed hard in the past and chose to either accept failure as growth or run away and start over where people see you as perfect until you screw up again. It’s a vicious cycle and your resume is the only thing that grows in this scenario.
I’d rather work with humans. Humans make mistakes and become better humans/leaders because of it.
May 9, 2022
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