On today’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, we’re continuing our “Work Fail” series because we know that we all make mistakes at work. And it’s important not to dwell on that, but to learn from it. So we interviewed Marilyn Sherman, founder of Front Row Leadership, Hall of Fame speaker and author of our personal leadership and development books, including “Is There a Hole in your Bucket List?” Tune in as Marilyn shares her work fails and how she overcame them.
Marilyn Sherman, Founder of Front Row Leadership
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone! It’s Jenn DeWall and on this week’s minisode, “Work Fails”, we are talking to Marilyn Sherman, the founder of Front Row Leadership and hall of fame speaker, also an author of personal development and leadership books. I know based on probably how I just described her, you may not think that she could have e a “work fail”, but what this podcast and what she is here to share with you is that all of us will fail, make mistakes, make errors at some point in time. And it’s not a matter of whether we will do it, but it’s how we respond to it. And so, Marilyn, I am so excited to have you here today to share with you or to share with our listeners maybe some of the work fields that you’ve had, but before we jump into it, can you just tell our listeners a little bit more about you for those that may not be familiar before we jump into talking about our fails?
Marilyn Sherman: Well, I’ve been studying successful people and successful teams and leadership for the last 20 plus years. So I am obsessed with helping people get out of their comfort zone and live and lead their life in the front row. Because life is to be lived in the front row, and you don’t want to get stuck in the balcony or meandering around in general admission. So that’s what I do.
Jenn DeWall: You help people move through, I imagine moving through a lot of those mistakes and those work fails so they can get to that front row?
Marilyn Sherman: And that failure is not a finality. Failure is not final. Failure is a learning opportunity. For Sure.
Jenn DeWall: Well, I mean it’s easy for you to say you’re really successful.
Marilyn Sherman: I mean, I thought of three more fails just during the introduction. Seriously.
Does Everyone Make Mistakes at Work?
Jenn DeWall: Well, no, and that’s exactly why we have this podcast, right? Because Hey, I’m playing on the assumption of, Oh, we just assume that people, especially if they’ve created a lot of success, they’ve done a lot of really admirable things. We think that you know, we’re just, we become blind to the struggle that other people’s might, other people might have.
Marilyn Sherman: Yeah. And usually, as I’m thinking of all my failures and we certainly don’t have enough time on this minisode to hear all of my failures. A couple that come to my mind to have to do with lack of preparation and lack of willingness to ask clarifying questions upfront. So never ever make assumptions. I was speaking at a conference where they told me there was going to be 12,000 people in the audience and usually when I do back of the room sales anticipate about 10%. So I printed books just for this organization, 10% of that number, which is what, 1200 books. I arrived and they said so your luncheon is going to be in this side room. I said excuse me lunch. Oh yes, you’re speaking to a group of people who had to pay extra to come to a luncheon and you’re the luncheon speaker. I said I thought I was speaking in the general session room. Oh no, no, no, no, you’re going to be speaking to about 500 people now.
Now, I had so many books and I was like giving them away to the staff of the hotel cause I did not want to schlep them back home. It was really embarrassing and it was simply because I didn’t do enough clarifying and verifying. And this particular client, there was one person in charge of hiring the speaker, another person in charge of hiring the luncheon speaker and another person in charge of the breakout speakers as opposed to the general session speakers. And I got so caught up with the whole event. I didn’t realize it was the luncheon speaker who hired me and not the general session speaker who hired me. It’s a, it’s a matter, of having consistency with your operations. So if I were consistent, I would have specifically said how many people in the audience of the event I am being hired to speak at.
I need to know how many people will be there that day. And typically are your people book buyers? Like are they, are they ready to buy books from the speakers who are on stage or did you want to pre-purchase a book for everybody in the audience? I mean those are the questions you would have every single time. And because I didn’t have those clarifying questions, I made an assumption. And as you know, assumption is the lowest form of knowledge. So do not assume anything, especially when it comes to decisions about printing, for example.
Jenn DeWall: I’ve never heard that expression before. Assumption is the lowest form of knowledge.
Marilyn Sherman: That’s a good one. Yeah. That’s a writer downer. Write that one down.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. Assumption is the lowest form of knowledge. I think that that’s, that is going into a mistake just all around, that’s probably the common one that many of our listeners, including myself, absolutely have hands down all the time.
Marilyn Sherman: That’s why I like to talk about clarify &verify because it really takes a little bit more time up front to clarify expectations and verify that you understand what the expectations are before you make cost-saving decisions or cost-creating decisions. Right? The other mistakes I’ve made at work had to do with lack of preparation and sometimes lack of preparation comes from a place of cockiness, which is different than confidence. Confidence is, you know, your stuff. Cockiness is, you think you know it all. So you tell everybody how much, you know, like confident people don’t need to advertise, they just, they just know it. So I was, I came from the seminar world where I was used to being hired to do six-hour seminars in five cities a week up to three weeks a month. So I came from that background. Then a particular client hired me for a 90-minute keynote presentation and I got really cocky and thought, you know what, I got this.
It’s so easy to go from three hours to 90 minutes. So, I did not prepare for that 90 minutes as much as I needed to. So when it came time to actually deliver the speech, it was for a government group and they were very high-end government officials in that room. And as I’m delivering my 90-minute speech, I realized what I had prepared for was over at the 45-minute Mark. And when you fail on a big stage in front of a big group of people, you learn your lesson real quick. How did that feel? It felt horrible. I was sweating like you’ve never seen a speaker sweat before. Luckily I had enough in my toolkit of activities that I had them do an activity and then debrief the activity, which filled up the rest of the 45 minutes.
But if I were the meeting planner, I would have sat down with that speaker and said, excuse me, what was that? So my lack of preparation and my cockiness made me live one of people’s biggest fears on stage is what if you don’t know what to say next. So now that, and that was like 15 years ago. So now I make sure I over-prepare I know exactly which direction I need to go and I have the material for the topic I’m hired for in case they need me to cut it short or in case they need me to go longer. I mean sometimes it’s usually that you need to cut it short because another person spoke and you’re behind on the agenda and there’s a certain you know, time that you need to be done. So I’ve learned to know when to cut it short, but I also have to have in my tool kit to make sure I deliver what I promised I was going to deliver
Jenn DeWall: You, you’ve written a few different books and you know, we talked a little bit about you being the founder of Front Row Leadership. What do you think are some of the mistakes that- or the work fails people are making, preventing them from being front row leaders?
The Biggest Mistake is Being Afraid to Speak Up at Work
Marilyn Sherman: I think the biggest mistake is they feed into their own fear, whether it’s fear of success or fear of failure. You know, a lot of people have a fear of failure, fear of judgment, pure fear of what people will say and the fear of making mistakes. And actually you, you shouldn’t have a fear of failure. You should actually embrace failure. I know a company that their culture is so amazing and energetic and engaged by all the employees because their culture is one of, we don’t fear failure. We celebrate failure. So imagine a culture of people who no longer have fear to speak up in a meeting, no longer have fear to throw their idea up and no have no fear to, to volunteer to try something out. Why? Because if anybody makes a mistake, they highlight that mistake and they cheer that person for making that mistake. Do you see that? How, how upside-down that is. For most other cultures in the U.S.
Jenn DeWall: There’d be companies that are like, are you kidding me? There’s so much money that just went out the door.
Marilyn Sherman: Exactly. But here’s what companies that have that kind of culture where people are ridiculed for making mistake it, it keeps people in their fear. They don’t want to be ridiculed. They don’t want to be put on the spot. They don’t want to be made fun of. They don’t want to lose their job. They don’t want to be demoted. They don’t want to even be called out in a meeting. So what do they do? They keep those ideas to themselves, even though the idea is a better idea, a cost-saving idea, a life-saving idea. They don’t want to speak up because of fear of failure. But if they embrace failure and celebrate failure, guess what?
You’ll get those cost-saving ideas. You’ll get those life-saving ideas. And when I say lifesaving ideas, if you’ve ever studied plane crashes, the plane crashes. I think the majority of the plane crashes that happen that are operator error, a copilot knew what to do, but because they were with a senior pilot, they didn’t feel comfortable or confident to speak up. It’s a fascinating study, so if that happens in life or death situations, imagine what happens in hospitals. Imagine what happens in acute care facilities where people have a fear of speaking up when this could be literally life or death, so overcome your fears. That’s the number one thing that I think keeps leaders from being front row leaders.
Jenn DeWall: We’re going to wrap up our minisode. What would be the last piece of wisdom you would want to bestow on someone that’s really feeling like they failed and they can’t, they can’t turn it around or they’re just feeling really struggling to turn it around?
Marilyn Sherman: Well, a lot of times your failure is really in your own head, so be super grateful for that. You’ve come this far. Be super grateful that you have an opportunity that turned that ship around. Be very grateful for the people around you that can support you. Just have the courage to ask for that help. And I guarantee you, if you ask enough people, you’re going to get the answers you need to keep going.
Jenn DeWall: Marilyn, this is such great insight. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Your work fails. Our mission with this minisode series is to try and help people embrace their failures so they can learn and be better leaders. So thank you so much for sharing that with our listeners.
Marilyn Sherman: My pleasure. Thanks, Jenn.
Thank you for listening to today’s minisode work fails. If you want to find out more about Marilyn Sherman, head on over to front row leadership.com or find the website in our show notes. You like today’s work fails episode. Don’t forget to rate and review us on your favorite podcast streaming service.