There’s a local beer distributor near my home that has one of those interchangeable signs out front. Today it’s mostly used to advertise their current specials, but a number of years ago they used to post pithy sayings on the sign board. One that has stayed with me for many years now said simply, “He who does nothing makes no mistakes. He who makes no mistakes learns nothing.”
How often do you allow the fear of making mistakes to keep you from acting, or perhaps even thinking about an issue productively? How often do you opt for what Susan Scott has called the “safety of confusion”? It seems at first to be an odd sort of phrase, but the truth is that confusion allows us to refrain from acting, and according to the wisdom of the beer sign, that means we can avoid making mistakes. No step, no failure. No action, no exposure to discomfort. Psychologist Abraham Maslow many years ago summarized this dynamic in his discussion of “the need to know and the fear of knowing” when he indicated that “Where we know fully and completely, suitable action follows automatically…” and so, the fear of knowing is, in reality, a fear of doing, a fear of the consequences that flow from knowing, a fear of the “dangerous” responsibilities.
But as leaders, we must lead. And to lead we must be courageously willing to know, to act, and to learn. As Brene Brown so aptly stated, we can choose courage or comfort, but not both. So, we must create for ourselves and for those around us permission to act and to fail forward. It is not the leader’s job to prevent risks so much as to make it safe to take them. In doing so, you acknowledge that failure isn’t a necessary evil so much as a necessary consequence of doing something new and using the information gained to learn what is possible and can succeed. Clarity and confidence often come as you move forward, not before you do so. As a leader, you can’t afford to believe you have to have all the answers or to know how things need to be done. Use your team. Don’t just be open to ideas from others but actively coax them to contribute. Then listen to understand, not to rebut. Great discussions are the precursor to solid decisions – decisions that align with organizational values and are honed by input from those who will be impacted by the decision. And such discussions will only occur when you set the tone that truly values input and allows others to take a stake in the process.
This segment of Sharpening Stone was brought to you by my local beer distributor.