Leading Through Mistakes
February 25, 2014
Founder of Thin Difference
TopicsCulture, engagement, Leadership Development
In our Lead Change Google+ Community, we posed a question:
How do you deal with mistakes that happen within your teams and organization?
Mistakes Will Happen
A certainty in life and work is we all will make mistakes at various points in time. When we do, the goals will be to limit the consequences, take corrective actions, and learn the most from them. Sounds simple, right? However, in both leadership and culture terms, we seem to complicate these goals.
What happens is some may:
- Scold individuals
- View mistakes as a true failing or, worse, intentional (most are not)
- Dominate in telling what should have been done
The message is one of failure of one or more individuals and the self-righteousness of another.
A better message and actions to take are:
- Celebrate mistakes as mutual learning opportunities
- Understand mistakes can strengthen organizations and cultures
- Encourage the right mix of letting people get out of their comfort zones, innovate, and learn in successes and mistakes
Taking these actions is not being soft or too risky; accountability needs to be present. Within accountability, there should be an encouragement of letting individuals be responsible and having the opportunity and freedom to undertake projects with creativity. When this happens, leadership strength is gained along with a strength in organizational culture. We embrace learning, growth, and a focus on how to enhance processes and skillsets.
This is the difference between a growth and fixed mindset for a leader and a culture.
Community Thoughts on Mistakes
Highlighted below is an engaged community’s insights on the question of mistakes.
Brian Rensing: We work to resolve quickly, removing the heat from the person(s) who made the mistake. I'll take the heat on their behalf. After, we do a postmortem to figure out what went wrong, covering the human, infrastructure, and environmental factors (Haddon Matrix). The challenge I see is cementing and extending the learnings to avoid the same and similar mistakes. I wish I knew the magic here….
Terri Klass: I look at mistakes as an opportunity to learn and refocus. I experienced this recently in one of my presentations where my power point had a typo. I am usually good at catching them but stuff happens. At first when one of the participants pointed it out, I was embarrassed but later I just thanked him for being so helpful.
Joy Guthrie: My current organization is small. We do, though, utilize the AAR process (After Action Review) to learn from every engagement. We literally do an AAR whether things go well or whether there is a mistake. If you're not familiar with AARs, you identify 1) what was supposed to happen 2) what actually happened 3) what accounts for the difference; and 4) what can we learn from that.
Eric Silverstein: One thing you can be assured in life is that there will always be changes, so mistakes will happen. The key is how you react, engage, resolve and learn. This should involve the entire team and organization. To offer the best customer experience requires an entire organization to operate as one, therefore communicate early and as often as possible!
Paul LaRue: We work hard to be upfront to minimize any anxiety and lack of confidence our partners or customers may have. We work to resolve the core issue first, then fix the process or indiscretion secondly. In addition, I do check nightly for myself – what positives (+) did I achieve, and what takeaways ( )? Just a quick simple reflection on the day to catapult forward tomorrow.
Kate Nasser: I echo the importance of using something like AAR ... on a regular basis. Make it a natural part of everyday work culture so that it doesn't feel painful but rather feels like an invigorating boost to reaching excellence.
Elizabeth Stincelli: While many use mistakes as an excuse to point fingers, mistakes actually offer great teaching moments. Once we have made a mistake we are standing in a different position with a new perspective. I hope we can learn to support the process of making a mistake, reevaluating our position, and quickly moving in a successful direction.
Jon Mertz: I really try to understand the cause of it and then ask questions to determine how it can be prevented in the future. I try to ask a lot of questions to get myself and others thinking about the situation and what to do next. Accountability is in the mix and try to make it a self-accountability moment if at all possible.
Mike Henry Sr.: My preference is to separate the consequences from the intent. We have to deal quickly with the consequences. We want to get all hands on deck and restore whatever impact the mistake caused. Then we're free to consider the cause and the intent. I try to remember most people don't plan to make mistakes so we need to figure out what process or paradigm contributed to the choices that were made and work on the root cause. Finally, we examine if this is a repeat mistake. Repeat mistakes mean we messed up examining the root cause the last time. There must be a different root cause if we addressed the believed root cause the first time. Repeat mistakes are the worst. First time mistakes are the price of admission.
Mistakes: Leading Engaged
What I love about the insights above is:
- Several new practices are highlighted: Haddon Matrix, AAR, and Positives / Takeaways
- The understanding of the human element: Stretching, Understanding, Resolving, Encouraging
Within each, there is a keen understanding of culture and how to encourage and strengthen leaders. This is the value we gain from mistakes. What we learn, correct, and do in renewed ways will always make us better leaders and a stronger community.
So, join in. How do you deal with mistakes that happen within your teams and organization? What type of leadership skills are you developing for yourself and others?
Jon, what a great post. So many good ideas, as you mentioned.
Firstly, I’m reminded of when a bone is broken, and the place it heals ends up stronger than it was before. Work processes or trust between individuals can be stronger than before because of the “mistake.”
Secondly, I personally like to *capitalize* on mistakes in this way (meaning my mistakes or those of the managers I coach). When my clients are worried because they’ve made a mistake with an employee, I coach them that their humility and how they choose to handle *their* mistake with an employee can actually improve the working relationship and trust, i.e. their own leadership. Seems a counter-intuitive way to view mistakes, but it’s all in how you choose to look at it.
Wonderful points! Thank you. We can become much stronger after a mistake and we need to treat these moments in this way. Approaching mistakes with humility — on both sides — is essential. And, I agree, a better working relationship can emerge if handled with empathy and focus on positive change.
Thank you for adding to the conversation!
Thank you, Jon, for including my input. AARs were created by the US Military a few decades ago to build a better learning environment. We use AARs not only in our own work; but, have also encouraged our customers to use it. Really like all the responses you received and how you’ve pulled them together. Thanks again!
It is great in the way you use AAR both internally and externally. A great practice! Always appreciate your insights. Thank you!
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[…] Leading Through Mistakes by Jon Mertz on Lead Change. Key quote: “A certainty in life and work is we all will make mistakes at various points in time. When we do, the goals will be to limit the consequences, take corrective actions, and learn the most from them. Sounds simple, right? However, in both leadership and culture terms, we seem to complicate these goals.” […]