I was recently reminded of a story that took place while growing up in a rural and small town of Southwest Kansas. Yes … this is the type of town where everyone waves at each other, the doors to cars and houses are often left unlocked, and the sole traffic light flashes yellow.

The story is about a farm boy named Cody, who was a junior in high school. After a year or so of saving money along with a notable contribution from his father, Cody was able to purchase his first car, a used Ford Mustang.

This was a big investment for the family, as the farming income yielded just enough to pay for the expenses. Cody was aware his father had parted with a good chunk of the family savings.

Although the car was far from new, it was well-maintained, and the shiny red color was exactly what Cody wanted. In fact, it was the same shade of red that adorned the school’s team uniforms. 

On this crisp November morning, Cody jumped into the Mustang ready to take it for his first drive.

As the engine roared, his excitement grew!

Before heading down the long driveway connecting the home to the gravel farm road, he realized his wallet was still in the house. Leaving the engine on, he quickly ran into the house.

When Cody returned to the car, he was perplexed to discover it was no longer there. It was gone!

As it turns out, he had left the car in neutral, and because it was parked on a slight downward slope, it eventually gained enough speed to crash straight into one of the largest American Sycamore trees planted on the property.

The front end of the car took the brunt of the force. When Cody made his way to it, his heart sank. The investment he and his father had made was lost.

Cody found his father in the kitchen reading the newspaper. He didn’t know how to break the bad news.

He was upset, sad, and downright scared!

Dad, I don’t know how to say this … but I wrecked the car … ran it straight into the tree near the barn.”

Without even lifting his head, Cody’s father responded …

I guess you better take the truck!”

The Value of this Story

This story provides an excellent example for the work environment. In fact, psychological safety literature, which pertains to allowing people to make mistakes without the fear of negative consequences is becoming more prevalently used in the business world today.

By taking this approach, businesses help employees feel empowered to make decisions on their own.

It’s true, some mistakes will be made, especially in the beginning. However, in a positive and safe environment, employee confidence and skill levels start to improve. Decisions and actions become more precise and closer to what is needed for the respective situation.

So, the next time we want to criticize an employee for committing an error, let’s hold back. Instead, let’s create a positive work environment in which the employee, who is really interested in what is best for the organization, can learn from mistakes and become an independent, successful, and productive employee.

Remember, criticism is one-sided. It might make us feel better and more powerful in the moment, but it will have a long-term negative impact on the work environment and, thereby, affect the success and productiveness of our employees.  

Therefore, when a situation arises, let’s use Cody’s father as an example and respond by saying …

I guess you better try another strategy.”