The first and possibly only time I’ve ever failed at anything was my first driving test. It was horrible, I cried a bit and then I redid the test and passed second time with only 1 minor.
I’ve passed every exam I’ve ever taken, I’ve grown up doing what I’m told to do and I’ve gotten used to only opening my mouth when I’m pretty sure I’m right.
So I’m not used to being told that I’ve done something wrong.
Doing something wrong, hurting someone else, being ‘told off’ and having someone dislike me are all things I struggle with.
In a world where we idolise success and demonise failure, you’d think I’d be very happy with being a ‘get it right’ kinda girl.
But as I’m learning, getting it wrong can be incredibly freeing and beneficial…
Let me illustrate.
Right now I’m on a mission to shift the focus of my company Ginger. We’ve been delivering some (pretty hot) public speaking training for 7 or 8 years now, genuinely changing lives whilst helping speakers to inspire audiences.
So far, so good. And now I’m building on our past successes to do something that brings even bigger benefit to the world. I want us to do our very best work – to work with 100 game-changing women to dramatically enhance their capacity to lead change.
At the same time as I have a big, bright vision, I’m at the centre of a business set up by me and coloured by all of my flaws (every organisation is the shadow of its leader).
Internally, some of the processes I’ve set up have been ‘creative’ (a polite way of saying messy) and operating with a virtual team spread across the country I’ve struggled to pass the same clarity of thought onto my team as I encourage my clients to develop.
These are not problems, these are not failures, these are normal parts of growing an idealistic small business into something that’s scalable.
The problem is that until a couple of weeks ago, I was the one trying to fix it all. I was taking on responsibility for pretty much everyone in my team and, weirdly for someone who’s passionate about developing leaders, holding back the leadership development of my team (that shadow thing again).
Here’s where failing comes in beautifully. Actually a double fail.
Failure One was the recognition that I have got it wrong and that I want to change. Great. Cathartic to express.
But then I made the real mistake. Failure Two approaches. In conversation with my colleague Kelly, I was having a teary conversation with her about my leadership and we said ‘what happens if we press record? What happens if people see the real Sarah Lloyd-Hughes?’
We then recorded the whole snotty mess of a conversation of us talking through the ‘failure’ situation and published it to a small group of some of our supporters.
Terrifying, but it felt like it was important to show other people the process I’m going through to help them with their own leadership.
The result? There it is. Failure Two. Not a good decision.
Without consulting my training team colleagues, Kelly and I went to a place of over-honesty that probably was damaging to our credibility as an organisation and certainly was hurtful to some of the people we mentioned on the video.
As my colleague Beverley Glick often says ‘Speak from your scars, not your wounds’ and this was definitely a moment where I should have taken on her advice.
I spoke from my wounds. And I left my team reeling from some badly timed public opinions that weren’t serving to them, myself, or my company.
Fail, fail, fail.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
And yet… and YET… from within the messy wrongness of the video came a tiny shoot of something deeply precious – the opportunity to be wrong, to fail and to open myself up for help.
This process has been a refreshing burst of ‘wrong’ from usually-right me. And it has been so, so beneficial for my team and I.
I’ve learned that the constraints of always needing to be right are not only exhausting, but a massive blockage for learning.
I’ve learned that when we’re never wrong, we take on far too much and disempower those around us by being ‘over-capable’.
I’ve learned that never being wrong is a kind of arrogance that is similar to not inviting help, and not being able to ask for it.
And I’ve learned that the gift of being wrong, when combined with open and honest conversation, opens up the cracks of competence and allows everyone around me to grow.
I’m grateful that my team held a space for me to be ‘wrong’, gave me a slap on the wrist and told me not to do it again. We now have a new freedom in our communications that gives them – and me – more permission to be brilliant, shining leaders.
So, I’m celebrating the power of wrong-ness and I’m celebrating colleagues who still hold each other to be brilliant, capable human beings, even when we screw up.
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