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Steal This: Advice from Spanx CEO

by Jennifer Hutchins

Often when I see an article in a national business publication, I eye the headline with a twinge of skepticism about whether or not my nonprofit could benefit from a billionaire’s wisdom. But this one made me click–mostly because I love Spanx, but also because I’m as susceptible to click bait as the next executive director.

From the desk of Jennifer Hutchins, MANP Executive Director

The Spanx CEO’s advice boils down to a simple question her dad would ask every week: “What did you fail at this week?” Counter to “How was your day?,” this reminded her that all success is built on trial and error–that it won’t happen unless you also mess up. After each response, he gave her a high-five, reassuring her that she was still loved even after failure.

Intrigued, I tried it myself. This week, nine sixth graders visited our office to interview me and a colleague about our “Words to Live By,” asking us to share a quote or phrase that has helped us in our professional lives. When my office mate shared her guiding principle (“Be brave and don’t be afraid to make mistakes”), I was reminded of the Spanx CEO and tried the question out on the kids.

I was stunned by the response. At first, they looked at me confused (I think only a couple of them know about Spanx). I’m pretty sure no one had asked them this question before. Then, one by one, nearly everyone’s hand went up–many more hands than any earlier invitations to share thoughts or observations. It was like a door had flung open and every kid wanted to step out to share some little mess-up or goof they had experienced that week.

I high-fived each of them, congratulating them on the effort, dealing with the result and discovering that life goes on with no one losing faith in them. It really was remarkable to see relief in their admissions and willingness to trust each other. From now on, I will be asking a new question at the dinner table and in the staff room. Feel free to give it a whirl and let me know how it works for you.

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