I was recently visiting a park with my friend, her children and family, and there were a variety of obstacles, slides and swings for them all to enjoy. Her twins quickly bounded over to a huge dome-like climbing frame and their goal was to reach the top; they were full of energy, their smiles were huge and the whoops of joy were a delight to hear. As they started to climb, their grandad rushed over, hands outstretched, calling “be careful, you might fall”. At that point, the twins stopped and looked towards their mum. “You’ll be fine”, she said. “I want you to look where you are going, check where your feet and hands are, don’t rush or play about, focus on the frame and, if you think it’s getting too difficult, I’m here to help you get to the top”. Immediately, the girls turned back to the frame and continued with their pursuit of glory.
At the same time, my friend’s nephew was standing next to his grandad at the bottom of the frame, watching the twins. “On you go”, said grandad. “No, I don’t want to fall”, he said. And no matter how much encouragement both grandad and my friend offered, he was too afraid to risk it. The fear had already been put in place.
That got me thinking. How often do we have this same view within our working lives? As a leader, if a member of your team had asked if they could try something innovative, would your response be: “if you’re sure…I don’t want you to be upset if it doesn’t work out…I won’t be upset if you cannot do it…what if you try something simpler…let’s ask others what they think first.” Immediately, they hear that you think they will fail and that they lack the ability to reach higher levels of success. Imagine if one of their colleagues had also been considering something similar, but had overheard your comments, you may have already instilled a fear in them before they had even had a chance to start, or even prevented them from trying. So, what if your response had been different? “Go for it…if that’s what you want to do…I’m here to help if you need me…what do you need…so long as you stay focused and understand what you are doing, it’s worth trying…”. How much more might they have achieved?
Generally, teams are made up of people that have the right skills, knowledge and mindset to do the job, however, when agreeing roles and responsibilities for a project, how often have we heard colleagues giving ‘helpful’ advice; “don’t worry if it goes wrong, we can help you put it right…we know you haven’t had much experience of this, but don’t worry about it…!” Without realizing it, the team are letting their colleague know that there is a chance of failure, someone is probably going to have to step in and the team have communicated a lack of confidence in that person’s ability to do well. How much more would the team have achieved if they had said “sounds/looks great, if you feel you need help or advice just ask, we trust you!”
Before offering advice, imagine them on a climbing frame; are your words highlighting the fear of falling or the potential to reach the top?
As for the twins, they reached their goal very successfully and, when they finished, asked “that was brilliant, what can we do next, is there something higher?” And off they went, without the fear of failure.