There’s a lot of work that goes into developing a strong team. There is also a tremendous amount of work that goes into improving your own leadership skills. But, before either can reach the potential to be good, first you might want to get comfortable with being bad.
In my career at Walt Disney World, I have worked with countless amazingly talented and gifted individuals and teams. The focus of my time with the Youth Education Team was as a trainer, as a coach, and to provide mentoring for the larger team of facilitators. Disney does not skip steps. They will take the time to audition and hire the most promising individuals. For the facilitation team Disney will then provide them with the training, knowledge, and the skills that they will need in order to deliver a truly world class product for the educators and students who are participating in the programs. But, before a newly hired facilitator can be a great facilitator, they are going to begin as an inexperienced facilitator.
Being a great facilitator is an extremely specific blend of skills. To facilitate means that it is less about what you say and more about the questions that you ask. You must learn how to ask the right questions. You need to learn presentation skills. You must learn verbal and non-verbal body language. You need to know every square inch of the theme park layout. You must develop the ability to plan for and anticipate contingencies and emergencies and any number of unforeseen circumstances.
It stands to reason that a Trainer is a far more experienced facilitator, someone who has been doing it for years. We don’t just try to model what the ideal program looks like; we have been tasked with the responsibility to teach them how to do it.
This inevitably gives the new team members the expectation that they will be able to replicate what their trainer(s) do. But that is not going to happen. After a week or more of training, new facilitators are provided with a “check-out”. This means that they are given their very first group of students in order to facilitate their first real live program while the trainer follows along and silently watches much like a driver’s test.
It’s never goes the way they expect.
There are a few, rare, instances where a new facilitator will come back having had a great time! These are the ones who were able to deliver the experience that they were looking for. When that happens, they rightfully feel elated, experiencing a rush of relief that they got through their program without dying, or without the kids rebelling or leaving them. They feel like they’re on cloud nine. They are justifiably proud of the moment. But that is a rare occurrence.
More often, what they feel at the end of that first check-out program is fear and nerves. They believe it didn’t go as well as they thought that it would. They felt awkward and uncomfortable and unsure and nervous. And they don’t understand why. As trainers, we must explain to them, “That’s because it was your first one. It’s the first time you ever did this”.
The trainer is now required to make a choice here. I might say, “Hey, you know what? That met the expectations we have for somebody’s first program.” My other choice would be to sit with the new facilitator and say, “There are areas that need improvement. Let’s work together to tweak it, work it, and make corrections. I will continue to work with you on making improvements, and when you are ready you will get another run at this.” And they will be crushed. They will be crushed because all they have just heard is that “You did a bad program”
They do not understand that before you get to be a great facilitator, you can only hope to be a good facilitator. And before you can be a good facilitator you have to be willing to start as a bad facilitator. I’m sorry, but nobody gets to skip that initial first step.
The often-repeated rule is: anything that is worth doing well is worth doing badly until you get better.
That world class juggler on tv started out as a bad juggler. The amazing musician you are listening to is someone who started out as a bad musician. A number one author starts out as a bad writer. Great _____ begin as bad ______. Every. Single. Time.
Want to learn how to become good? Be willing to start out as something bad. Be willing to suck at this until you figure out what works. Only over time can you develop the skills to elevate your art to the level you want it to be.
But we don’t like that as human beings, it’s terrifying. We do not like uncertainty, or feeling like we’re vulnerable, like people won’t accept or like what we’re doing.
Visualize a trapeze artist. Can you accept that there is no way that she gets to go up on a trapeze rig for the first time and train to be a trapeze artist without falling? No. So that is what she is going to do. She plans to go up there and fall. What she is learning to do is to let go. She is becoming comfortable with the feeling of being un-tethered in space, not on firm ground. Learning to be comfortable with being in mid-space, the feeling of being weightless.
If you are still reading you should be asking what does this have to do with you? Easy; Developing leadership skills is no different. Be willing to step out where you have never been before. Know that in the same way a facilitator must do that first program, or a trapeze artist has to let go the first time, or just like anybody who is learning to walk, your steps are going to be faltering, and unsteady. So, take a couple more steps. Learn how to walk.
It’s not a problem if you suck at the beginning. It’s only a problem if you let that stop you. You must become comfortable with being bad. That is if you want to increase in skill. If you want to gain knowledge. If you want to learn and evolve.
To be a leader or to work on a team means putting yourself up for examination. It means doing things you haven’t done before and being comfortable for it.
Oh, am I asking you to do something you’ve never done before, to potentially fail at it, and still be accountable for it, to own the failure?
Yes. Own your mistakes. Be willing to suck. Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly until you learn how to do it better.