In my early years at school I loved learning French. The fact that my first French teacher was a kind, enthusiastic woman who drove a yellow Triumph Spitfire had no bearing on my enjoyment whatsoever. Miss Draisey was an excellent teacher, encouraging and trusting. I remember how shaken she was when discovering two girls cheating in a French spelling test. You just didn’t cheat in Miss Draisey’s class, she was too…nice.
Jump forward a few years and I’m sitting in the exam hall at Purley High School for Boys, aka Colditz. With a few notable exceptions, the teaching staff led by DGS Akers, our thoroughly unpleasant cane wielding headmaster, were a similarly grim bunch. They made Severus Snape look like Mr Tumble. My French teacher at this school was Madame Ananin. She came across pretty miserable most of the time, and seemed to have a loathing not only for all of us school boys, but her beautiful native language too. How odd.
Back to the exam hall. I’m at my desk, just one boy in an anonymous swathe of rows and columns. The teachers responsible for adjudicating the exam stalk the rows and columns as we prepare to start ‘O’ Level French (yeah I’m really that old!). Madame Ananin is on duty and she walks purposefully along the row of desks. She stops, puts a hand on my desk and leans over. She speaks four words, ‘You will fail Shaw’. She moves away from my desk and carries on. Thanks for the vote of confidence!
I passed ‘O’ Level French. I got a B grade and an A grade for spoken French. I won the inaugural Bruce McCallum Memorial Prize for spoken French that year too. My love for the French language was and is too strong for Madame Ananin.
Nowadays in the pursuit of helping people and teams to develop I encourage people to push themselves, often to and beyond the point of failure. Through failure we learn. To make mistakes and to fail is simply human, and in an encouraging environment it is a most powerful thing.
Know this. Creativity and innovation are forever locked in a whirling dancing fling with failure and chaos. As a leader, when you tell me you want creativity and innovation that’s great. And when you join the dance you never know whose hand you’ll take. You will fail. If you practice, you will learn and you will improve. And I will be there to celebrate that with you.
Thank you Madame Ananin.
photo c/o theirhistory