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Give Feds Permission to Screw Up

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Here’s one thing I rarely saw during my time working in government: permission to screw up. That’s not to say people didn’t mess up. It was quite the contrary—people screwed up constantly (myself included). But instead of owning it, people felt pressure to obfuscate, cast blame or change the definition of success to meet their paltry performance.

All of these actions stemmed from fear: fear of being thrown under the bus, fear of a reprimand or fear of being fired (truly irrational…if only it were that easy to get rid of a poor performer). Operating out of fear, fear that is often self-imposed, is never a good formula for success (though it’s great for achieving that gray-haired Anderson Cooper/Steve Martin look).

Instead, writes Heidi Grant Halvorson of the Columbia Business School, give yourself permission to screw up by following these three steps:

Step 1: Begin a new project by explicitly acknowledging what is difficult and unfamiliar, and accepting that you will need some time to really get a handle on it.  You may make some mistakes, and that's ok.  That's how ability works – it develops. (Repeat this to yourself as often as needed.)

Step 2:  Reach out to others when you run into trouble.  Too often, we hide our mistakes, rather than sharing them with those who could give us guidance.  Mistakes don't make you look foolish – but acting like you are a born expert on everything certainly will.

Step 3: Try not to compare your own performance to other people's (I know this is hard, but try.)  Instead, compare your performance today to your performance last week, last month, or last year.  You may make mistakes, you may not be perfect, but are you improving?  That's the only question that matters.

If you give yourself permission to fail, and take some pressure off yourself, you can redirect those negative energies in more positive ways—namely, toward the creativity and critical thinking needed to exceed expectations. 

[via 99U]

Image via Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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