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It Is OK to Fail

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Our family was on vacation in Florida when we decided to give karaoke a try at a local restaurant. We had seen the sign numerous times and expected to see a single senior citizen running a small karaoke machine with a handful of people singing the "oldies." In reality, we found a packed house and a professional DJ facilitating a night of entertainment that was well above our expectations.

My family, Cole (8 years old), Tess (6 years old), Ami (my wife and I won't disclose her age) and I could not even find a place to sit down because of the crowd. When finally seated, we started to fill out the forms to designate the songs we were going to sing. As I continued to observe the proceedings, I noticed that none of the other participants were using the forms but bringing up their own music? Not only that, they weren't just good but excellent performers. We quickly realized that this karaoke night was for retired entertainers and the other participants exceeded our expectations and abilities!

I nonchalantly slipped my form with the song I was going to sing into my pocket. Tess already determined that she had no inkling to get in front of the audience and sing but quickly noticed that I was chickening out. For the record, I was going to sing the old Tammy Wynette hit, "Sometimes it's Hard to be a Woman" and I am sure I would have been great.

Here is the point: I didn't want to embarrass myself. However, when I saw that both Cole and Ami were going to continue on the journey to stand in front of the audience of the "professional" senior citizen singers, I quickly tried to discourage them. For my wife Ami, it was more about my embarrassment by association. For Cole, it was the fear he was going to fail in front of this audience and I wanted to protect him.

From past experience I already knew that Ami wouldn't listen to me and I quickly turned my energy towards Cole. "Cole are you really sure you want to get up there, these people are really good" was how my initial discouragement to Cole went. "Yea Dad, I am pretty sure I want to get up there", was his quick response. I continued to escalate my discouragement strategy and finally said, "Cole, I am not getting up there with you, you are on your own, pal!" Incredulously, he looked at me as if I were nuts; "I never asked you to" was the response from my eight-year-old son.

How similar is this to managers that do not want to see their people fail? Many times they take over the sales calls or meetings because they can do it better rather than see their direct report struggle or chance failure. The main point is top performers fail a lot! They have to have the courage to fail because nobody is guaranteed success. You have to risk failure to succeed -- otherwise everything would be a slam dunk and winning wouldn't be as fun. We can't protect our people; we need to encourage them to take risks!

Ami sang her song and did great (but she wasn't the one I was worried about). Cole slowly walked up to the stage when his name was called. He very deliberately grabbed the microphone and belted out his song with confidence. Sweating profusely, I watched Cole knock out a wonderful version of the song he chose and enjoyed the loud applause from the audience. They loved his performance and the courage he showed. When he was finished, he knew he had done a great job and his body language reflected his confidence. He energized our family that night. More importantly, regardless of the possibility of failure, he took a risk that helped bolster his confidence for the future.

What action would you like to take but have a lingering fear of failure?

How can we encourage the people who work for us to take risks?