Saturday, January 29, 2011

Celebrating Failure

Talking with a friend this week a memory came to the surface that he thought was worthy of a blog post. At the risk of being self serving, I share it here.

Years ago, I came across a principle. It is not a particularly profound principle in fact it is quite basic. Even though it is simple that does not diminish its power. The principle is: A person will never give a manager, coach, teacher, parent or any other leader their full potential when the fear of failure is present and especially if they feel that failure is fatal.

It was a year where I was one of the assistant coaches and I hated it. You see I like being in charge, so being an assistant hacked away at my pride and my creativity. My son was age 13. This team and league were new to both of us. The head coach was not a tyrant but mistakes were certainly not celebrated and it was common for a player to be pulled immediately from the game for a small infraction. The team’s win loss record was less than great, with only an occasional win.

Late in the season the head coach came to me, unable to make the next game, he asked me if I would be the acting head coach for the upcoming game. I agreed with some exuberance. He warned me that the team we were playing had previously beaten us soundly and he was sorry for leaving me with such a dismal outlook. Maybe it was because I didn’t respect him that caused him to not respect me but either way he was clear in his communication that he expected little, and a loss.

Being the rebellious person I am, and watching all year in silence, his coaching style. Maybe I was more excited about this opportunity than I should have been. I knew after this game, I would not be asked to fill in again, so I immediately decided to ignore his long list of instructions and the lineup sheet he gave me. One thing for sure, I was not going to start his son! Brian would take the starting spot in the lineup. Brian was a far better player and because he played the same position as the coach’s son, he was yet to start a game – I hated that! BTW-small bonus, a couple of years latter Brian told me I was the best coach he ever had – and why wouldn’t he?

I also, decided to make another change. The team had stretched out and it was time for the pre-game meeting. I had the team follow me and we jogged out into right field, right up next to the fence. All the other adults were far out of ear shot which is exactly what I wanted.

“What are we doing way out here coach?”

“Good question, we are going to have a talk. Today were going to do something different, there is going to be a new rule. It will probably only be for this game but this rule is just for you. The new rule is this, everyone is allowed three mistakes during this game.” I looked around, it was a miracle, the whole team was intently listening. I paused a long time, taking in the phenomena. Getting over my shock I continued, “When you make a mistake you will not be pulled out of the game, you will not be criticized, you will not be yelled out. You can strike out three times, you can make three fielding errors, you can get thrown out trying to steal, it doesn’t matter. Each of you get three mistakes. And, who knows some of you might even get four.”

They looked at me dumfounded. Brian threw up a hand. “Yeah, Brian?”

“You mean I can miss the ball totally and you’re not going to yell at me?”

"That’s right, any more questions?”

There were a couple more questions similar to Brian’s. As I answered them and explained that when one played with worry it was like a lead weight hanging around his neck and it was impossible for anyone to play to their full ability. I talked to them how I believed in them and thought they all had abilities we had never seen. It wasn’t long before the light began coming on. Some were still suspicious but moods began to change. Fearful stressed faces began to relax and smiles began to replace scowls. You could begin to see they thought this might be fun!

The game started and true to my word – with great exuberance I celebrated effort regardless of the outcome. Weaker batters I would say, when you go up there, no soft swings, swing at that ball hard! Let it know who it came in contact with! Kids that normally looked for a walk got hits and hard hits. Players who had God given speed but were normally timid on the bases took risks and stole bases. Yes, some struck out and some were thrown out, but all in all, very few mistakes were made. Skill levels we had not seen before came to the field that day. Even the conversation between the players was lighter and encouraging. I don’t remember the score but we won that game by a large margin and it reinforced in me, the principle, that fear of failure in and of its self is fatal.

The coach did show up during the second to the last inning and was dumbfounded. I told him about our three mistake rule, which he was very unimpressed with. But, I was right about one thing, I never was asked to fill in again.

I hope you do what you can to remove the fear of failure from you own life and also from those you lead. It might surprise you what is lying there waiting to come out.

Good luck – take a risk.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Good News

Yesterday I was to meet my wife for dinner at a local diner. She had earlier shared some great news with me and I thought I would shock her by actually bring her flowers for once when I wasn’t in trouble. As it happened, I arrived 15 minutes early and set the flowers on the table. From the glances I received walking in, it was hard to tell if the flowers in this particular restaurant was an oddity or just rare for an old guy to be carrying in flowers. Real flowers I knew were not normal because of all the plastic ones splashed around here and there where the dust had collected.
There was one particular old guy who watched me walk in, and if one saw him carrying flowers into a restaurant, every patron would know immediately he was in trouble with his wife. He could not stop looking at me sitting there by myself with those flowers lying on the table. I could see it was killing him. The curiosity finally overtook the poor soul and as him and his wife got up to leave he said, “Pretty flowers.”
“Yes, they are - every now and then I buy them for myself,” My answer did little to satisfy the poor creature. His brow furrowed, his lips went tight, and his eyes squinted down oh so slightly. I wanted to say, ‘you look confused, what’s the problem, don’t you buy yourself flowers?’ In this day and age, in our anything goes society, I could see he was at a loss as the many possible scenarios that flashed through his cranium. At best this was one of those awkward moments and I could see him scrambling for a response. I did have to admire the speed, his mind was not working. After sufficient discomfort had been allowed I added, “It is possible my wife might get them when she arrives.”
His face relaxed and I could see, once again all was right in his world. His wife then felt free to also admire the flowers.
The waitress who often waits on us came by to say, I shouldn’t have brought her flowers. She is cute enough I would probably have laughed at any attempt of humor on her part.
After my wife’s salad and my hamburger were consumed and we were preparing to leave and since our body language and conversation did not indicate I was there to make amends for some horrible very bad deed. The three waitresses had concluded that we must be out for our anniversary and said so. My wife told them her good news and all were appropriately impressed.
I would tell you the good news but at the moment I am not in trouble and I want to keep it that way. I will say the good news is NOT that we are going to have a baby but most of you already knew that.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Choose Wisely

The first clue that made me think my decision might not have been the best, was when I had to use my fingers to pull my lower lip out of my mouth. By feel, I lined up my lower lip with my upper lip. It felt right, but I was not certain my effort was successful. Walking down the hall I could hear voices. I was doubtful if I could talk. That dull ache in my jaw was already annoying me.

Two hours ago I had been given the choice, do both sides today or reschedule and come back later for the other side. Hmmm….at the time it seemed logical. I will do most anything to avoid a second trip to the dentist. What could be so bad about having ones complete lower jaw numb? I ran through the possible scenarios. Biting my tongue in half seemed like the worse possibility. It didn’t occur to me that talking would be so difficult and this drooling in public thing, did it really have to be part of the deal?

The nurses parting words were, “if you drink something hot it will help the numbness to go away quicker.” Was that a smirk I just saw cross that fully functioning face of hers? The way I felt, I knew drinking something hot was a bad idea, it probably would just end up in my lap. “You can also try exercising, getting the blood flowing will help dissipate the anesthesia.” If I could have raised an eye brow at her I would of, I wanted to say, “yeah, I will get right on that.” I really don’t think they should allow the emotionally disturbed, serial teasers to wear those blue jump suits.

With my chin drooling and drooping I wondered if this is what it felt like to have a stroke. I decided going back to work was a no good, horrible, very bad idea. I headed home. The drive home was uneventful and I was careful not to bite my tongue. I was pretty sure I was successful but I could not be entirely certain since I had no feeling in my tongue. Arriving home I went straight to the mirror to see if my tongue was intact and if my lips were still together. The tongue still had that scar but no new injuries.

I noticed I had no feeling in my right ear, was that suppose to happen? I wondered if the doc went a little over kill on the drug, did my eyebrows really need to be numb? Both seemed to be a long ways from my lower jaw.

On the positive side this might be an excellent opportunity to pluck all those nasty ear and nose hairs, pain free. Where are those tweezers? Ah, heck with it, maybe a nap is what I need. I wiped the drool off my chin and headed for the easy chair.

Two hours later: hmmm….everything still seems numb and I am getting hungry. Maybe I will try the exercise advice. Layered up and laced tight were the new pair of hiking boots I wanted to break in. I headed out for a 30 minute brisk walk. I got the heart pumping with the help of some short jogs and was back home feeling better.

The numbness was actually dissipating; I only have one small place on the right side of my chin that is still numb. I guess that exercise thing works. But, what is that smell? An odor that rises with heat…. Oh, it’s me. I would say somebody’s deodorant isn’t working but I am the only one in the room and besides I am not wearing any. The smell is not really that bad, let’s just call it a manly smell and forget about it for now.

All and all, sitting here with the numbness mostly gone, my conclusion is I made the right decision. No dentist for another year. YES!

I guess it’s time for some dinner and then maybe a shower.

I know your thinking, ‘did I really read the whole thing? Why? Why?’