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Permission To Screw Up: Book Reflection By Karen Tapahe

Posted on November 29, 2021


Permission to screw up by Karen Tapahe

On November 18, 2021 ELGL members discussed “Permission to Screw Up” by Kristen Hadeed for the ELGL Book Club. We gave away six signed copies of the book to our members and asked them to write reflections on the book. Here’s the reflection post by Karen Tapahe, City Council Community Relations Coordinator for Provo, Utah. Connect with Karen on Twitter and LinkedIn.


I was so excited to read this book. The title gave me hope for my professional future. Kristen Hadeed did not disappoint! Her business venture focused on employing Millennials – college students – in a cleaning business despite no experience with cleaning or business. What could possibly go wrong?

We often hear from people who share their examples of success and everything they did right. It was refreshing to have someone open to sharing how they completely messed up and what they learned from the experience. Even better, Hadeed shows how those lessons learned shaped her business. I’ve learned in my lifetime not to regret the tough times and bad experiences. They shape you and make you who you are.

One of the fascinating lessons came from her upbringing. She was raised with encouragement to try things as well as the responsibility to solve the problems that came out of it. I realized that I had done this with my children as well. Rather than answer every question they had, I prompted them to find the answers. My oldest son is the most amazing problem solver I know. What would it be like to have an entire team of people who were motivated to find answers instead of coming to you with every single problem? Hadeed learned to apply this to her business when she saw how capable her team was when she wasn’t available during a crisis.

This lesson was very timely for me as a key member of our team was about to take some time off and was leaving us with very extensive lists of what to do (to cover for her absence) and how to do it. These lists have always been appreciated, but I have noticed that they don’t help everyone quite as expected. I work with someone who is almost paralyzed by this excess of help. He is quickly overwhelmed and resorts to asking someone else for the information. He would probably do better if he had to try things himself and learn in a way that helped him retain it. I’m a chronic list-maker myself, but I need to remember that others can benefit from a little less guidance and more reliance on problem-solving.

Living in a city known for launching startups, I have become cynical about some efforts toward organizational culture. Dress-up days, unlimited snacks, company movie outings, and pizza parties may be great perks (for some), but I have also seen these used as substitutes for good pay rather than a way to establish company culture. Hadeed read a book by Tony Hsieh that changed her direction. Company culture is defined by people and is what you feel. It made me proud of the office I work in because our team not only loves working together but is incredibly helpful to those who visit. I have a feeling that’s not typical for government offices, so I am grateful for our office’s culture.

I learned a new word from this book – immeasurement. Immeasurement is “not having an immediate, concrete way to measure their performance.” This concept really resonated with me since I discovered many years into my working years that I needed to know that my work mattered. Primarily, I had focused on working for nonprofits involving causes I was passionate about. Working in local government was different. I had to find other ways to value my work. It wasn’t immediately obvious, especially since I was more likely to hear from unhappy citizens. A few years into the job, I found that people in our community were eager to thank me for providing information and connecting them to resources. You’ll have to read the book to see how Hadeed’s student cleaning teams solved their immeasurement problem. Measuring your own performance is something you need to determine individually.

One of the crucial lessons for me in the book came from a course on communications that Hadeed attended. Only ten percent of communication comes from the actual words. The rest is all the body language and nonverbal cues. This wasn’t exactly new information to me, but the way she used that information made an impact. Hadeed’s company established an informal policy to use text messages and email only for quick, informational messages. I think we have all seen the increase in text-only communication generating more tension, divisiveness, and hurt feelings.

How many times have I spent extra time trying to dig myself out of a hole after a text message or email was misunderstood? And don’t get me started on how people interpret messages on social media! I saw this happening even more during the pandemic, as fewer in-person conversations and meetings were happening. I was happy that my team used Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams to make video calls so we could make the most of our remote work situations. Maybe this is why more people are using short videos to get their messages out. I do like the idea since it can be so hard to communicate all of the nuances of a message in a press release or email.

Permission to screw up? Hopefully, you’ve already given yourself permission to learn from your mistakes. They really are learning opportunities if you can get past the pain and embrace the adventure. Allowing the people around you to learn from their mistakes will also make you a better leader.


Check out all ELGL Book Club Reviews.

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