I am standing outside the Denver Center For Performing Arts sharing a story of an epic failure with a fellow acting student. I just started acting classes, thought it was a natural stage progression. Watch out Brad Pitt, I’m coming for you! In the midst of that conversation she interrupts and says “you know those past experiences were not failures, they were the lessons you needed to learn in order to be successful today”! As I was driving home, it struck me, although we all know this to be true, how often do we share these “failures” with the teams that we lead?
Throughout my career, as a team member or as a leader, I have found motivation is ignited when a leader shares their experiences, especially failures, as it helps articulate the “WHY” of the work. When told as a story or anecdote it can pack a stronger punch and have a longer lasting impact.
My first W2 at the age of 15 was washing dishes at a Holiday Inn in Lenexa, Kansas. If you have never been in the dishpit of a hotel it feels like a swampy rainforest with a barricade of white china plates and endless towers of stacked pots and pans. Everyday my boss would walk past me as I nonchalantly washed the dishes and tell me to do a better job. And, everyday it would go in one ear and out the other. Come on, I was 15!
All of this changed the day my boss called me into his office. Not only because it was the first sit down of my young career (I was quaking) but because he finally revealed the mystery of WHY he was riding my ass.
“Do you know why I ask you to do a better job of cleaning the pots and pans?” he asked. As a wise teen I answered “Because you love pots and pans?” He shook his head and said “When I was your age I was a dishwasher at a restaurant where a food borne illness shut down the business. They traced the sources back to the dish pit, back to me! I was responsible for making someone violently ill and giving the restaurant a bad reputation. I don’t want that to happen to you or this restaurant so let me show you the best way to get those pots and pans clean.”
After hearing his story and getting some pro tips on dishwashing I became captain squeaky clean and am happy to share that no one (at least that I know of) got food poisoning on my watch. Rather than bossing me around, “do a better job”, my boss should have led with that story when I was hired. What stories of your experiences should you be sharing with your team that will help them understand the WHY of their work.
We learn so much from failure yet we hide it like a dirty little secret. We've been programmed to think sharing these failures, especially if we are in a leadership position, will make us look stupid or unqualified. I challenge you to try it, share a failure to articulate the WHY and see the impact it has on your team.
If you’d like help searching for those stories to motivate your team, shaping them for maximum impact and sharing them with authenticity, reach out, it’s what we do.