Swing For the Fail

Swing for the fences, Strike out or Home Run.

In a startup, we have to make big plays. We have to have people who feel ownership for the company and who are on the same mission. We need passion and hard work. They have to imagine what is needed before they are needed and when they see a problem they fix it without being told. We have to have people who are willing to operate outside their job description by taking on projects and tasks in which they are not subject experts.

Most companies want this. They want their team members to be autonomous. Managers everywhere complain about babysitting. And the need to tell their employees what to do all the time, or they will only do the bare minimum. This distrust requires larger and larger pools of managers to keep the plates spinning. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy that nothing gets done without the managers pushing. And at the same time, nothing gets really done with the managers pushing.

There is this huge chasm between the two ways of thinking. But it is not because of the inevitable changes that occur with a large organization. It has very little to do with the size of your organization. It has to do with the culture of leadership along the way. How those leaders respond when things don’t go right? When they are fearful? When they begin to react to the situations and pressures of their companies and teams. Those reactions fuel the culture and it begins to turn.

People figure out ways to be successful. And that usually means trying to make the boss happy so they can feel good about their job and day.

Embrace Failure

There is a lot talked about in creating a culture where failure is embraced. It is so easy to talk hypothetically. And much easier than to actually embrace it. We have a natural fear of failure. Even speaking it’s name for some is akin to inviting it in to sit on their neck permanently. We have a strong desire to win. To feel good. To keep doing what feels good. And to run from what doesn’t feel good.

In fact, our minds have built in programming to avert danger and to reduce not feeling good. This plays a major role in how our habits are formed, which is the basis for a majority of our daily behaviors and actions.

Let’s move past lip service and actually embrace failure. It won’t be easy, but it has huge rewards.

Notorious and Unapologetic Failure

Okay, maybe not unapologetic but don’t shy away from it.

If you’re surrounded by others who also embrace failure, if your leaders, if your peers are constantly swinging for the fences – it makes it easier for you to do as well. The trick is you and those around you have to believe the same or at least be on the same journey.

You and those around you must discuss failure. It has to be unchained and escorted out of the dungeon and into the light of day. Give failure a spotlight. Recognize those who step out of the comfort zone and try to do something hard. When someone swings for the fences and misses – recognize them for it. If you encourage them they will keep trying. Most people worth a damn will diagnose what they did wrong and try to course correct. If you can, give them support with not only recognition but if you can lend your expertise and coach them on what they need to adjust to be successful next time, all the better.

Celebrate, Throw A Party , Recognize The Fail

It’s important to celebrate success. We need to celebrate milestones. Be proud of our accomplishments.

Just as important, if not more important, especially if your business or team is trying to create something or do anything more than keeping the engine going – is to celebrate failure when it is in the pursuit of more, better, different.  When someone is doing something more than keeping the lights on, they should be encouraged and embraced.

Crazy, I know, but don’t hang your head low, don’t expect others to show up to a meeting for a lashing – celebrate it. You are living our purpose to make something great happen, it wasn’t so great this time, and that is okay, we commend you for showing up in a big way. How amazing would that feel?

And guess what will happen – they will keep signing up for more.

When success comes from failure, when we learn and adapt, we will get better – our skills improve – we start to knock it out of the park. And we keep wanting more of that success.

If you don’t celebrate failure more than success, then you will eventually only have people sign up for what they know they can execute at 100% or are willing to take the risk that they could get lucky. Guess what these people aren’t learning, they aren’t growing, and they will never produce more for your team than they already came in knowing. They are playing it safe, and that is fine for a plate spinning company but not if you are truly trying to do something.

Fight the fear. Fight your natural tendency here. Give failure more than lip service. Make an award and stick it up on the shelf.

You can do it.

Embracing failure is probably one of the most important cultural things that any organization or really any of us can do. It builds resilience and perseverance which goes hand in hand with execution. We have to make that action happen.


Here Dr. Shillcutt discusses how sharing our failures and being vulnerable with others helps us become more resilient. I love the idea of releasing self shame.

Resilience: The Art of Failing Forward | Sasha Shillcutt, MD, MS, FASE | TEDxUNO

Putting intelligent failure to the test. Check out this HBR article by Rita Gunther McGrath.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: