Leading with Grace through Flops, Falls, and Fails

By Jessica Cabeen 

I have been in education for over 20 years (and in administration for 15), and this marks my first year in a new administrative role. With all that experience, someone might think it would be a smooth transition to the new school year.

However, within the first week of teachers returning, I:

  •  Accidentally sent a welcome message—to the wrong school.
  •  Effectively deactivated my account to the new curriculum platform in an attempt to be efficient, which meant I had to humbly call multiple levels of tech support to fix it.
  •  Created a new process to streamline the enrollment process, which ended up making things more difficult than needed.
  •  Lost more than I found the correct location while navigating a new building.

So much for a smooth transition.

Your possible responses to the activities above:

That is the worst week ever!

Better luck next week?

As educators, we walk into the new year with excitement, anticipation, and sometimes a sense of perfectionism that will never be sustainable. Framing the focus on your flops, falls, and fails in a growth (vs. fixed) mindset will allow you to be vulnerable in your leadership skills and admit you aren't perfect.

You have a lot to learn, which is why you will be great at what you do this year.

When you focus on being perfect and not present, you lose an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and build deeper relationships with those around you.

In my five different leadership positions (over fifteen years in the same district), I can attest to the fact that people don't want to work for someone who wants everything to be perfect. People want to work with someone who is willing to recognize their mistakes and learn from them.

In Lead with Grace, I use this definition of grace: a willingness to learn something new every day AND forgive yourself along the way.

So with that lens, how can you take your flops, falls, and fails and learn through them, not hide, cover-up, or deny that they happen?

In a recent podcast, Breaking Up with Perfectionism, Adam Grant interviews Matt Mathesson about his Church of Fail.

This was a monthly opportunity for employees to gather and share their most recent failure of the week. He posed three questions in this process:

  • What did you feel?
  • How did you cope with it?
  • And finally, what did you learn from it?

At the end, the person who shared receives a big round of applause.

At our new school: Austin Online Academy, we will be starting our team meetings with this process. Building a school from the ground up and learning how to take the heart and art of our in-person teaching into a virtual environment will provide many opportunities to focus on learning—instead of pretending we have to be perfect.

So, as you think about when you might have had a fall, flop, or fail—how can you reframe your reflection from the fact it wasn't perfect—to the point of learning in the process?

Photo by Gratisography
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