The one to fail

How many times have you stood and heard a leader utter the immortal words “ask for forgiveness, not for permission”. They are great words, very empowering but the tricky thing about them is if they are spoken but not enacted they are very empty words. Now of course none of you work in organisations with blame cultures, corridors littered with the bodies of shot messengers and those who dared to take accountability for a mistake. Easy words to utter but requiring of commitment and purpose.

I’ve been re-watching “The West Wing” recently (and it may creep up with regularity given we are on season 2 of 7) but there’s a great episode in the first season called “Let Barlet be Barlet” in which the President’s job approval rating drops by 9 points. When the senior staff discuss the drop they come to realisation that the decrease is not because they’ve done something wrong but actually because they’ve done nothing. The fear of getting something wrong has driven inactivity that lead to a perception of less effective leadership.

Given this is TV of course resolution is swift and through a cracking interchange between the President and his Chief of Staff a new plan is hatched. When briefing the senior staff Leo McGarry (Chief of Staff) says this:

“Our ground game isn’t working; we’re gonna put the ball in the air. If we’re gonna walk into walls, I want us running into them full-speed.”

When I was a youth I played in the local youth symphony orchestra. For some reason a particular rehearsal sticks in my mind. We were rehearsing Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Capriccio Espagnol’. If you happen to know the piece of music there is a passage where the string and woodwind sections are parading their wares melodically speaking and as if from nowhere the brass section (of which I was a member) arrive with some force.

Given it was a Friday night and our focus was elsewhere when the conductor called for the orchestra to “take it from 20” we misheard and arrived in force having (as a section) gone instead from 21. A cacophony ensued and when he stopped the orchestra we wholly expected to be bollocked for not paying attention. We were therefore surprised when it was the string and woodwind sections that received said bollocking for “despite being in right, playing with the passion and commitment of people in the wrong. They (he pointed at the brass section) made me believe they were right. They were wrong with commitment”

All this by way of saying whilst safety may seem like the best option sometimes doing nothing or attempting something half heartedly may lead to an outcome that isn’t satisfying either for you or those around you. If you are in a position where you do hold people to account think about the impact of chewing them out and realise that if you want decisive empowered people working with you, how you deal with failure needs to be as important as how you celebrate success.

Have a good day all, I’m off to fail… style!


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One response to “The one to fail

  1. Pingback: Being arrogant « Thinking About Learning

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