Recognizing the Dread of Failure

Jackie is one of my daughter’s friends.  We are often at the same events and I have the opportunity to watch her exercise a finely honed gift.  I believe she is a child whisperer.  When she interacts with any small child, I can feel the love in her words.  So can the child.  When she offers direction or correction, children tend to respond.  Her own children are mature and sensitive.
Recently I pointed out her strength and said she could be one of the super nannies on TV who go in and show parents how to alter the interaction patterns in the home.  My daughter agreed that Jackie could be a super nanny.  Then she said, “I would hate to be on that show.”
I asked for clarification, and she said, “The nanny watches and then takes over and models how you do it.  Then they show you the film of her doing it and she breaks it down and shows you how you can do it.  Then they have you try the new way on camera.  My problem is that I know I would make so many mistakes.  It would be so embarrassing.”
Everyone in the conversation smiled and nodded.  There was agreement that failure and public embarrassment would be involved in the learning process and the dread of such learning is natural.  Who would want to be on such a show?
The agreement suggests a shared norm and explains a problem I often encounter in teaching positive leadership to executives.  We teach them how to become organization whisperers, leaders who will make a greater difference.  They love the concepts, but they cannot see themselves going back and applying the concepts because they know it would involve observable failure and they would risk the loss of credibility.
As I have become increasingly aware of this dynamic, I realize it is not a failure on the part of the participants.  It is a failure on my part.  I am not leading effectively.  It is my responsibility to love them more.  I have to work harder to increase the level of inspiration so they have more desire.  I also have to find way to increase their sense of safety so they dare to risk learning.  Only then will I succeed like Jackie succeeds.

  • Why do we dread failure and embarrassment?
  • What does this dread do to our development as effective parents, leaders, and human beings?
  • Think of someone you care about. How could you help them better develop?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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