Today’s post is by David Mattson, CEO and president of Sandler Training, and is excerpted from the book You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar. Copyright © 2015 Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
You have to learn to fail to win. When it comes to making cold calls, generating referrals, replying effectively to emails, or doing anything else a professional salesperson must be prepared to do on a daily basis, it’s OK to fail. Failure is a part of the human condition.
Everybody fails at something. Failure is how we learn. People who achieve a great deal fail at many things. Recognizing failure as a potentially positive experience gives you a new freedom: the freedom to try new things, be more creative, and stretch outside your comfort zone.
I had the distinct privilege and honor of knowing David Sandler, the founder of Sandler Training, from 1986 until his passing in 1995. He was a great mentor and a great coach because he made sure you always felt safe, and one of the ways he did that was by giving you permission to fail within clearly recognizable boundaries.
Why Leaders Must Help People Feel Safe to Fail
I can’t overstate the value of an employee feeling safe within an organization. Safety allows people to thrive on the things they do well – and it lets them focus on doing the things that need to get done.
When you’re afraid, you don’t do the things that are necessary to excel to greatness. You hold back; you’re hesitant; you second-guess yourself. The safety David provided was through what he called the two Ps: protection and permission. He would protect you. He would make sure you knew you were safe – as long as you were operating within the boundaries you had agreed to. He knew you might not get it right all the time. If your heart was in the right place and you did the right things, then he always regarded the outcome as a learning experience – even if it wasn’t what he wanted, needed, or expected. That kind of protection allowed you the freedom to think on your own and take chances.
David’s second P, permission, was also an important part of how he made you feel safe. You knew what the boundaries of your decision process were, so you knew you had permission to make decisions within those guidelines. You never felt inhibited. You never thought, “I’d better go ask him before I decide.” Of course, David required you to do your due diligence, to be prudent, to be conservative, to take calculated risks. He required you to defend your decisions – but he always gave you permission to make them, and that meant he gave you permission to fail as well.
Reducing the Risks Associated with Failure
Most people don’t get their decisions 100 percent right 100 percent of the time, and David knew that. So, if you stayed within the agreed-upon boundaries, you never felt as if your job was on the line.
Fortunately, the failures that came along weren’t great, and when they did come, they were important learning experiences. If you had a strong opinion and you stuck to it, and it didn’t pan out, David would always respect the fact that you had tried. He knew there were always bits and pieces of even “failed” projects and opinions that could be used for the greater good. He would extract what was useful and use it in other areas.
My own time with David Sandler was special. In the formative years of my career, he taught me how to think, how to analyze, and how to communicate. Last, but not least, he gave me permission to fail. And those gifts, I find, are what most people get out of the Sandler process.