An important concept that I’ll likely refer to many times in the future is the pervasiveness of fear in the workplace. There is fear of making mistakes, fear of not being accepted, fear of being told no, fear of upsetting someone, fear of not knowing, and I’m sure many others. We have all succumbed to at least one of these fears before.

If you take a brief moment you can likely come up with at least one time when you were crippled by fear at work. Perhaps it is something you are dealing with today. If you’re not, be assured that someone on your team or on another team you work with is dealing with this.

Tracy Fenton of WorldBlu, an amazing organization, has what she calls the Power Question. It’s a simple but very deep question.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

If you give yourself 30 seconds with that question you’ll find yourself coming up with amazing ideas and solutions. Give yourself 5 minutes and you’ll be in a very different place mentally. Unfortunately most of us come back to “but what if?”

And the fear is back.

I wish I could say I’ve mastered control over my fears, but I’d be lying. I still struggle with these normal fears from time to time. The way I overcome them is using a simple card.


We All Have a Get Out of Jail Free Card to Use

I remind myself that we all get at least one “get out of jail free card”. We just want to make sure we use it for the right reason and at the right time. This card means that if you make a decision that backfires you get to openly tell your manager “I am really sorry about what happened. I thought I was making the right call and figured I could use my get out of jail free card if it backfired.”

Even if you’ve never told them about the card it typically cuts the tension a bit and allows for constructive conversation to happen. Once that conversation takes place it’s always worth a shot to see if you can “get the card back”. It’s a great way to see if your manager is still willing to trust you in the future. Unless you tried using it on a situation that falls under the AYBD category you’ll likely get it back.

AYBD (Are You Brain Dead?) Category

  • – Letting a highly valuable client walk
  • – Publicly humiliating a co-worker or client
  • – Taking vacation without telling anyone

There are others, but you get the point. No matter what, stupid crap is stupid crap. That said, if you really don’t think you can use the card, even though you’ve never needed to before, you should probably look for a new company to call home. Any place where you are afraid to make decisions and take risks is a place you can’t grow at. I can’t think of any exceptions.

Who To Give A Card To

If you’re in leadership you should give this card to everyone on your team. Give them examples of when they might want to use it an assure them that they can use it if it backfires. It really should be that simple.

If you’re worried that your people might abuse this it means either you hired the wrong people (so fire them) or your team really needs the card because you have them afraid to take any risks. It’s likely a combination of the two and a chicken/egg situation.

The Last Time I Went to Jail

I can honestly say that by using this idea, I don’t recall the last time I “went to jail” and had to use the card. That’s the power of the card. I’ve let all my managers know that I have this philosophy and they all get it and support it. It encourages me to be decisive and be willing to take risks.

Each time I’ve brought this idea up it’s resulted in a good 10 minute conversation about expectations and boundaries. The conversations make the card worth its weight in gold.

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