‘Tell me about a time you failed’ – My First Pep Talk


My first pep talk as a manager was a smashing success – until it wasn’t. It was about 30 years ago or so, long before I had any business trying to be a manager, but I did know how to do a pep talk.

I went around the room and told each individual how valuable I thought they were, and why. I made sure each one knew what they brought to the table that made us a great team. I could see the faces light up – I could see their confidence growing. By the time I was done, I felt terrific about them, about the place, about the team, and I could tell they felt terrific, too.

Everyone left the room buoyant. My boss clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Great job. Now comes the hard part.”

It was then that I realized: The only thing I had prepared was the pep talk. I had no clue where to take everyone next. The words were brilliant, but I had no idea what action to take to move the words into concrete reality.

Needless to say in coming months the place foundered and morale sank. I didn’t even know how to ask for help yet.

I developed an understanding that knowing what each person does and contributes is only an excellent first step. Yes, people need to know they’re important. But longer term they need encouragement, direction and feedback about how they’re doing, and a tangible reward for their effort. Ideally we do what we do because we love or at least enjoy the work, so the reward is not the end-all-be-all, but we want to be paid/rewarded for the value we add to our product.

A great beginning is a great beginning – not everyone even gets started. But make no mistake: After you get off to a great start, now comes the hard part.