don’t, don’t screw up

In the last post, I talked about people being motivated to do great work through the fear of failure.  This post will talk about motivating people to bring their best work to the table.

A few years ago, an audio engineer I used to work with came to the booth at Willow Creek.  He started to tell a few people about his most memorable moment working with me.  I began to brace myself for what he was going to say.

19156061_c0903856aa_b I was TD’ing an event where the band kicked in and it sounded amazing, except the string section was muted.  I leaned over to this guy and calmly whispered “String section.”  He figuratively kicked himself and unmuted the strings.  As he was dialing it in, I then leaned over and calmly whispered “Lead vocal.”

He was devastated that he had ruined that moment, and was so appreciative that I didn’t jump all over him while it was happening.

What a relief!  There were many crazy moments over the years we had worked together that he could have chosen to talk about.

We had worked together for about 5 years, over 15 years ago.  The fact that this was what he could remember tells me a few things.

This guy had a sense that he deserved to be yelled at for is poor performance.  What he did was unacceptable.  I agree, it was.  But my history with him told me that he wasn’t characterized by missing audio cues.  This guy normally nailed it every time.  Knowing this was the key to my response.

If he was known for forgetting to turn mics on, I wouldn’t have entrusted our main service to him.  I would have put him in a lower priority room where there was space to learn the basics of production.

How a person performs is in many ways, a leadership issue.

One one hand, I need to determine if someone is ready to perform a particular task.  Anytime someone starts doing something new, there is always a level of risk.  My job as a leader is to determine if the risk is worth it based on the long term gains.  In this example, this wasn’t the first time he had mixed FOH, so the risk vs. benefit assessment had already happened.

On another hand, what do I do when mistakes happen?  Do I just let them go?  Do I assume the person making the mistakes  is OK with it?  Or do I assume that they are as frustrated as I am?

Since assuming is always a bad idea, a conversation needs to happen to clarify what is important and to restate  any values that need to be brought to the surface.  However, for me, when I do have the conversation, my starting point will be that the other person is as disappointed with the mistakes as I am.

Once I’ve put someone in the seat, I want to empower them to do their best.  I didn’t want this audio guy’s motivation to come from how I might respond if he messed something up.  I wanted him to do his very best because he wanted it to be the very best.

Once we have defined the essentials of what needs to happen, I want him to be freed up to go with his instincts.  I want his first thought to be “How can I build the best mix that represents what the band is doing and that can engage the congregation the best?”  Instead of “What am I forgetting this time that will send Todd over the edge?”

The don’t screw up version of this get his mind off of doing his job and making someone not mad.  The bring your best version puts his mind on the things he needs to do in order to do amazing work.

Are you volunteers worried about making a mistake more than they are worried about doing a great job? 

As a leader, have you set them up to succeed or should they be learning the basics of production in another environment?


I think there is another post involved here, about how to respond in the moment when mistakes do happen.  You can either make things worse or just less worse.  There is no real way to make things better, it is just about minimizing the damage done.



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