Failure. A.K.A. How To Make A Comedy Legend Giggle

The Change Leader Weekly

To Ponder: Relatable Failure

A guilty pleasure of mine is British Comedy in its many forms. If you have read either of my books this is likely no surprise - both Douglas Adams and Monty Python are endless wells of fantastic quotes.

While taking a moment to decompress this week I stumbled onto this clip of Lee Mack telling the story of his first attempt at stand-up. During which he sent one of the legends of comedy, John Cleese, into a giggle fit. An experience that Lee later described as one of the proudest moments of his career.

Here’s the video of the whole bit (language warning):

Lee’s a highly talented comedian - what he’s done here is almost poetic. He’s taken what would have been a highly embarrassing early-career failure and used it as fuel to create one of his own career highlights.

But he’s also done something else here. Lee is often positioned as an ‘everyday’ style of comedian - and this is a prime example of that in action. Masterfully he uses failure to create immediate relatability.

As leaders we so often get caught up in the need to always be put our best foot forward. There’s a concern that fallibility shows weakness.

It doesn’t. It shows humanity.

So here’s your question to ponder this week:

How can you use better use your own personal failures to create relatability and fast track group rapport?

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To Action: Normalising Failure

This week, I have a question for you. When was the last time you truly failed? By this I mean gut wrenching, plate smashing, sleep destroying failure.

Has it been a while? Or perhaps it’s fresh and you are still sore from it? Either way, I bet you learned something valuable that you now share with others.

This is acute failure.

Acute failure is useful. We tend to create real behavioural shifts from it because we are often forced to. Acute failure is effective – but acute failure is expensive.

Interestingly, acute failure is what we often think about when we think of failure. So, when someone says to you that you should ‘embrace failure’, most of the time people tend to think of recovering better from acute failure.

But, what about the other type of failure? The subtle, everyday stuff. The comment that went over wrong at the meeting yesterday. The workshop that went 30 minutes overtime. The decision to buy fast food instead of bringing something pre-prepared from home.

Subtle failure is insidious, it adds up, but it doesn’t cause notable behavioural change. It lingers. Subtle failures hardly ever see the light of day. No reflection, no storytelling, no growth.

This is the stuff that often slowly undermines your teams unless you put preventative action in place to normalise these inevitable failures.

The great news is that it’s relatively easy to do.

Create a ‘failure session’ at the end of a day or week to provide the space and opportunity for your team(s) to expose their failures.  The agenda of a failure session typically looks something like this:

1)      Tell us all a story of something that went terribly wrong today/this week, and some quick advice for your teammates from that experience. (30-45 seconds max per person).

2)     Repeat for the next person.

The agenda isn’t ground-breaking, however it’s the follow-up activity that’s really powerful here. After the reflection point, write everyone’s failure and advice on a white board (or similar) that is visible to all for the following day/week.

Ensure the session is light-hearted, and that everyone gets a chance to share. However, a quick word of warning here. Do NOT ever let this session become a confirmation of failures or an opportunity to condescend and criticise. The space must be safe and fun.

Through the simple act of exposure, light-hearted storytelling and a little public accountability, failure becomes normal.

When failure is normal, openness increases.

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To Reflect: Continual vs Definitive Failure

Sit down with me for a moment in my imaginary psychologist's chair.

In this week’s newsletter I’ve mentioned failure a lot.

Have you had any emotional response to this?

And even more importantly - when you think of failure, is it predominantly a definitive failure (i.e. a finale) or a continual one (i.e. a process)?

How you feel about failure as a change leader sets the tone for those in your organisation. …And you can’t innovate or drive change without some degree of failure.

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Both Books Are Still On The Top New Release Charts - Weeks After Their Release!

A few weeks ago I highlighted the fantastic initial release success of my latest book Valuable Change and the audiobook version of Creating High Value PMOs.

…Well that success hasn’t stopped.

Excitingly those books have continued to hold top new release spots on Amazon AUS/NZ (which of course doesn’t include the copies sold directly through my webstore at

And that’s awesome. Thank you for your help in doing that.

Now if by chance you don’t yet have your copy of Valuable Change yet - you can order your copy of Valuable Change here. Shipping is FREE Aus-wide.

Get Your Copy of Valuable Change

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Have a fabulous weekend. See you next week.