Middle School Leadership Lesson: I DARE YOU TO FAIL!

Dare to Fail

Often times, we spend so much energy on trying to not fail, that we fail at everything.

Middle School Leadership Lesson

I was watching a basketball coach work with some 7th grade boys.  This team was brand new to the sport and lacked many of the needed skills to succeed at playing basketball.  On top of that, due to the awkward stages of their current development, risks and challenges were even more daunting.

As I watched the coach, his words of encouragement really struck me.  He watched one student particularly.  This student would shy away from the ball and would not attempt to make any type of rebound when he was near it.

The coach asked the young player why he was afraid of the ball.

The boy looked at the coach and simply stated:

“Coach, I am not afraid of the ball, I just don’t want to mess up.”

The coach’s response was even more enlightening than the boy’s. The coach responded by telling the 7th grader this:

“…you will never truly know what you are capable of achieving because you’re not putting yourself out there. If you never try, you will never learn or grow your craft.  I’d much rather you try and make a mistake that teaches you, than for you to not try at all and never learn anything or ever improve your playing skills.

When you don’t try at all, you are not only selling yourself short, you are affecting your entire team, who is depending on your efforts to drive our team towards the goal of winning.  You are either all in, or let me know so we can find a player who is.”

Taking It to the Goal

I watched as the boy cautiously trotted up, attempted a lay-up, made it, smiled and went back to his spot in line, waiting for his next turn with the ball.  But, the boy went back to the line changed.  He was no longer worried about and overly focused on NOT making a mistake.

He was now focused on repeating the “good” and learning from his mistakes.

Our world rarely acknowledges or celebrates failures.  We very rarely make reference in our history books or great speeches about people’s failures.  However, people often forget that very few times is success immediately attained.

If we spent as much time trying to learn from our lack of successes and what must change the next time, we would truly see a new definition of “success.”

A Bright Idea: Persistence

Think about the famous Thomas Edison.  Where would our world be without his inventions?  If he just tried one or two times and then gave up, we would be in a world of dark; pun intended.  It was documented that Edison stated he tried 10,000 times before he was finally successful in creating the light bulb.

When Thomas Edison was interviewed by a young reporter who boldly asked Mr. Edison if he felt like a failure and if he thought he should just give up by now. Perplexed, Edison replied, “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” And shortly after that, and over 10,000 attempts, Edison invented the light bulb. Source

Unlike Edison, most of us fear failure and avoid it at all cost. Often times, we truly never realize or reach our personal and maximum potential because the fear of failure kidnaps our efforts before we even try. We spend so much time trying to hide or deny our mistakes out of fear and pride; we very often fail to learn from our failures.

Root of the Issue

As a middle school principal, I often remind my teachers, students, and parents, much of the learning our students need to experience is not in writing down the “right answer,” it’s the steps the students must take in order to get to the right answer.

If you spend any time analyzing data-school, sales, trends, etc.-you will spend a great deal of time analyzing what went wrong; but, yet, very little time on what caused it to go wrong.  Why? Often in the business world, we see many leaders, teams, and employees who never reach their personal and maximum potential because they are scared of making a mistake.

“We have too much at stake to lose,” is often the thought for the day.  However, I challenge you with this…we have too much at stake to NOT make a mistake and learn from those mistakes.  Often, what we learn from making the mistake not only teaches us about that particular contextual learning, but it transfers over to so many other areas of our lives-both professional and personal.

Recalibrated Thinking

Failure is not an option.

NASA flight controller Jerry C. Bostick reportedly stated during the mission to bring the damaged Apollo 13 back to Earth, and we have heard that phrase in the education and business world ever since. I challenge Mr. Bostick.  Failure should be an option; so long as we spend our time and efforts learning through and from them.


If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make a mistake? Which is worse, failing or never trying? Is it possible to know the truth without challenging it first? Has your greatest fear ever come true? If you haven’t achieved it yet, what do you have to lose? Do you ask enough questions?  Or do you settle for what you think you know?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Brian Dawson
Brian Dawson, M. Ed. is a Middle School Principal and Independent Consultant
He serves with Educational Restructure, Transformation, and Systems Specialist
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Image Sources: 5congressavenueaustin.files.wordpress.com

7 responses to “Middle School Leadership Lesson: I DARE YOU TO FAIL!

  1. Billi Lim wrote a great book “Dare To Fail” which supports your point of view. We all need to understand that failure is not personified in us but merely a lesson. Our plan might have failed but we have not. Great post!


  2. Failure should be an option, absolutely! Great article Brian! Thank you so much for your wise words and for making sure your students and teachers understand that failure comes with leading. It was really good to read this article today.



  3. Reblogged this on mpnENGAGED and commented:
    Nice synthesis! Without trying, you get no where. Mistakes give clues for improvement. Persistence allows you to get closer and closer to perfection. Perfection doesn’t really exist!


  4. I was chastised last year for talking to middle school students along these lines, that telling them not trying was as good as quitting made them feel bad.


  5. Great thoughts. Studying failure often gives more valuable insight into success than studying success does! I love the Edison approach – he invested himself in failing and learning from the failure 10,000 times. I encourage my business clients to test their assumptions in limited-loss experiments, to have the opportunity to improve on ideas before launching whole hog into a very expensive project. Creating early learning opportunities, which may entail failure, may be the only way you’ll ever succeed on a grander scale.


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