False Start for the Win

This woman was telling me her story, from childhood all the way through owning and selling a business. One of the things she was talking about in her childhood is how she ran track, and she talked about false starts. Immediately, my crazy TV brain went straight to a Seinfeld episode where Jerry gets a false start and ends up beating all the kids in the race. They think he’s this crazy fast runner, except for this one kid. I digress, it’s a classic Seinfeld episode called “The Race,” if you want to know what a false start really is from a comic standpoint, go check it out.

Anyhow, when you’re a runner, if you get a false start in a race, most of the time the rules say you’re disqualified. That’s it, you’re out of the race. So, as a runner, it is really, really important that you do not have any false starts. Now, my kids play lacrosse. So when they start the beginning of a quarter or play after a goal, it’s a face-off. But if there’s a false start, the kid’s not getting kicked out of the game, they’re not disqualified. The possession goes to the other team and play is in motion.

I don’t want to say it’s not a big deal, but it’s not like a disqualification big deal. So they are less focused on that than say a runner would be. So how do we think about this in leadership? Because we do a lot of training in leadership – it’s our big focus – and we work with leaders who have decades of experience, and they’ll tell us, “I wish I had this training when I first started,” which is why we love and we’re out there training emerging and new leaders. But even if you’ve been a leader or you’re out there on the beginning of your leadership journey, and you think, oh man, I just didn’t start off right. I wish I could go back and re-do it.

I get it; I had a false start as well.

My first promotion to having direct reports, I was only 26 or 27 years old and I had maybe six months of corporate experience. I had no leadership training, and I was so excited to be a leader. Like, “Oh, I’m going to do it this way and I’m going to do this and that.” It was almost all wrong. But guess what?

That false start was okay! It didn’t disqualify me from my leadership journey; it was just a place for me to learn a lesson, to learn what I should and shouldn’t be doing for the next part of my leadership journey. We’re not in this leadership journey as a one-off race. It’s okay for us to have these false starts. We’re not going to get disqualified by these little mistakes. You just have to start.

So I encourage you that, if you’ve been kicking yourself a little bit hard lately, like, “Gosh, I just haven’t been doing this right. This is not the type of leader I want to be, I haven’t been communicating properly, I know I want to do this better.” Just look at it as a false start, and start new. It’s not a one-off race; it is a continuous journey that we are on, this leadership journey.

Allow yourself some grace, know that you’ve had a false start, learn from it, and move on to the next step. Let us know how you feel about your false starts, and what you’re going to do to pick up and continue on your leadership journey!