Owning failure isn’t easy. Avoiding responsibility can be worse than failure. Clint Frazier of the New York Yankees is the latest case example.
Frazier had a nightmare game over the weekend against the Boston Red Sox. His unraveling play in right field led to five Boson runs over two innings, sealing a win for the visiting nemesis of the hometown Yankees. That’s bad enough. Then Frazier refused to talk to the press and acknowledge his flubs.
His on-field meltdowns – he played defense like his shoelaces were tied together – cost the Yankees a game. His childish refusal to face the press after the loss damaged his reputation in the clubhouse and with fans.
Frazier is a 24-year-old star-in-the-making. He is tenacious and talented. He also is immature and that immaturity could stunt his career.
As a baseball player myself as a youth and later as an adult, I can tell you failure is part of the game. You flub a grounder. You strike out with the bases loaded. You run the team out of a rally. You are humiliated. You want to lock yourself into the porta-potty and hold your breath until everyone leaves the ballfield.
But life is like baseball. There is another game another day. You have another chance to be the hero instead of the goat. Redemption is just one clean single up the middle away.
The key takeaway from Frazier’s clubhouse hibernation is that failure on the field can be conquered by courage off the field. Facing the music, owning the stink and redoubling the effort are heroic ways to cope – and to inspire others to find a path forward from their failure.
In crisis communications, we tend to overlook, to underestimate the impact of denial on those watching what has unfolded. Owning a mistake isn’t just self-redeeming; it is redemptive for those watching. Owning a mistake is an example for others to follow when they fail or fall down.
Refusing to own a mistake not only tarnishes your own reputation, it also puts a stain on your colleagues, your company and your followers. They are diminished in the same way you are when you hide from failure.
Frazier defended his no-show appearance as a natural reluctance to address his lack of defensive prowess in public. Hello, Frazier is a professional baseball player, somebody who plays a game for pay in front of thousands of fans. Fans who expect some level of accountability. Fans who hope players will be great, but for whom they don’t expect perfection.
The problem with Frazier’s attitude is that it undersells his own resiliency, his own talent and his own will to succeed. Worse, it undervalues the example he could set – to be human, to be humble, to be forgiving of himself. People screw up all the time. They need to see and be inspired by other people who have the courage to be larger than their screw-ups.
The impact of owning your own failure is therapeutic, not only for you, but also for the people around you, especially the people who root for and look up to you. Owning a failure is not only a sign of maturity, it is a badge of leadership. You tell those around you it’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to deny it, walk away from it or prevent you from pursuing success.
Failure is not the end of the road. It often is just the road sign to another route to success. Failure is just part of life’s journey. You help everyone find their path by admitting you lost track of yours.
[Conkling is a lifelong, die-hard Yankees fan – and a fan of Clint Frazier.]
Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.