Admitting the possibility of failure: weak or strong?


Andy Murray has admitted he may never win at Wimbledon.    Question:  does that make him weak or strong?

Andy Murray: who would you prefer? Mr Tumble?

“The players around right now are so good and so consistent that it’s going to be a tough tournament for me to win.  I’ve thought about finishing my career and not winning Wimbledon and I’m comfortable with that.”

There are some who would say that if you visualise something it makes it more likely to happen (ask any athlete or their coach:  visualising oneself winning the race is a well established and widespread technique.)  So is’t Murray weakening himself mentally by allowing himself to contemplate not winning?

Personally I think not.  The opposite in fact.  I suspect it has liberated him.  On the one hand he has taken the lead in managing expectations of an ever-demanding Great British Public, who are oh so keen for him to win.   He has also refined his personal goal so that it feels Achievable.  If you have goals which you don’t believe in, the tend to demotivate rather than motivate:  I bet this has given him a huge burst of extra energy from having looked the possibility of failure in the face.

Andy Murrat wimbledon speechWhat I particularly admire about what he has done here is that he has shown Authenticity.  He has been honest with himself and with us, and used what Robert Goffee in his great leadership book “Who should anyone want to be led by YOU?” would call “Controlled Disclosure”.  He has deliberately revealed a vulnerability, thus making him more human, more real and more believable.  Murray has gradually been lowering his facade of toughness, (remember his tearful speech at Wimbledon last year – a powerful and memorable piece of communication if ever there was one?), and he comes across as all the more powerful and in control of himself every time he does it.

I wonder whether we should encourage people to become more OK with failing?  Children these days are set such high targets in life, and we as parents have such high expectations of them:  they can’t all win everything, and maybe we should do more to help them to learn from failing.  I’ve always thought that there is no such thing as a bad experience (within reason) as long as you learn from it.

I understand that Oxford High School is aiming to help pupils learn how to fail by setting tests in which it is impossible to get a perfect score.  These have been designed, apparently. specifically for girls, who set themselves much higher goals and strive for the perfect score much more than boys. The more answers you get right, the harder the test becomes, so that however well you do it will always show room for improvement.  I think this is an interesting idea, and plan to find out more about it.

I work with plenty of organisations where failing and learning from it is not a well developed skill.  It seems to be required that everyone puts on a demeanour of impending success, even when they all know full well this this may be unlikely.  Being good at faking it is  more important than reviewing, learning from mistakes and indeed encouraging failure.

Well done, Andy, this was excellent leadership.  I bet it’s put a tiny bit of extra spring in your step, which should come in handy over the next two weeks!

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About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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6 Responses to Admitting the possibility of failure: weak or strong?

  1. Marieke says:

    I agree re Andy’s openness and authenticity, and its application for leadership.

    However, the notion of creating a test for school children that is impossible to get a perfect score, strikes me as rather extreme! Rather than teaching high performing school girls how to fail (gracefully?!), perhaps it’ll teach them not to bother in the first place… How very demotivating! Perhaps as adults we can recognise that there is always room for improvement, but surely children can be let off the hook now and again!

    Like

  2. Not sure I would have the courage to do it…and it likely inspired his opponents, but admire him for it.

    Like

  3. Carolann says:

    Great post, Michael. I admire Andy’s authenticity, too, and I am rooting for him!

    Like

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