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.