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  • Writer's pictureMike Cameron

"You aren't screwing up enough!"

"It's been a long time since you screwed anything up." Seemed like an odd thing to hear from my boss, but I was pleased.

"Thanks!" I replied.

"That wasn't a compliment." Now that was an odd thing to hear.

My boss walked away and left me with a puzzled look on my face. His response nagged at me for a couple of days until I couldn't take it any more and tracked him down in his office. I walked in and he smiled. "It took you long enough."

"What was that all about?" I asked.

Ding! And thus began a Teachable Moment.

In the conversation that followed, what I learned was that I had been playing it safe. I had been doing the same things--probably because I knew I was pretty good at them--and wasn't stretching. It was the 'if you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you've got.' We were trying to grow a business and I was trying to grow a career and I wasn't doing the things that can lead to growth in either case.

That conversation took place over 20 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. Some great advice from a great leader who knew the value of challenging people and moving them out of their comfort zone. You have to stretch to find new opportunities to grow. That's equally true of a business, an organization, or an individual career. Mistakes are where learning comes from. Innovations often arise out of the efforts to correct a mistake.

It's absolutely critical that the corporate culture provides a safe environment for stretching--and the inevitable mistakes that are likely. A rigid, risk averse culture--or worse, a "gotcha!" culture--will surely cause an organization to atrophy. It is one of the jobs of senior leaders to set the example and push it down at all levels. It has to be safe to lean into opportunities.

Leading a small professional services company, I'm out of my comfort zone a lot of the time, There are always new challenges to face, new opportunities that require new skills and experience, and new connections that we need to make. But that's okay. I've learned not only to deal with challenges, but to look for them. That's where the growth is.



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