Stupid Leaders Overreact
Plug a VGA cable into the wrong port and presentations die. Have you ever noticed that “VGA in” sits right beside “VGA out?”
Small things are big when others depend on you.
The danger of small screw-ups:
Frustration from small screw-ups invites overreaction. Leaders do stupid things. Eggshell environments emerge. Everyone slows down for fear of screwing up.
Overreaction makes you choke on mosquitoes
and lose sight of elephants.
Small screw-ups expose other screw-ups that might happen. Suddenly the world feels like it’s falling apart. You can’t sleep at night.
Never explain forward-facing initiatives as solutions to past failures. It’s a downer.
Fixing past mistakes frees forward movement
but doesn’t fuel momentum.
Get a grip:
- Solve small screw-ups in small ways. Don’t call a departmental meeting because the new guy plugged the VGA cable into the wrong port.
- One person’s mistake isn’t everyone’s. Never let small failures in one area motivate you to point out short-falls in other areas. It’s demoralizing and disrespectful.
- Go light not dark. Encourage everyone when one small screw-up impacts many. “Thanks for your devotion. This was an isolated event.”
- Smile when you say, “We’ll figure out how to prevent this from happening again.”
Permission to make mistakes enables high performance. Mistake-free environments are stagnant or dead.
Small screw-ups matters because you matter.
How can leaders affirm individuals while dealing with mistakes?
What a great title Dan.
My first thought was “Yep, I was stupid!”
The key for me as I evolved was realizing this: Permission to make mistakes enables high performance. Mistake-free environments are stagnant or dead.
How can leaders affirm individuals while dealing with mistakes?
Realizing that every mistake contains at least some small success. No one has ever completely screwed up an entire project (at least with me). They always did something right. I tried to focus on that to start and then focus on areas of improvement.
It was so hard for me at first because projects done 25% right, 75% wrong usually weren’t any better than projects not done at all, sometimes worse. Sometimes costing tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars. Their mistakes were painful.
But I had to get over the pain and focus on their future development!
Their mistake can only lead to two things…1. Fire them for incompetence. 2. Learn from it.
I can’t hold a grudge. I either need to replace the person or decide that they hold long-term value and help them learn from it. That starts with recognizing what they did right.
Matt, Thanks for a great comment.
This post like the others I write reflect my own experience. YUP! I’ve overreacted. Hope I don’t do it again.
Here’s what you gave me:
There are two paths away from mistakes, dump them or develop them! Thanks again!
When someone else makes a mistake say, “Whoops. I did that myself once…or maybe more than once.” This works with students AND co-workers.
Because the truth is, we probably have.
When we over react we paralyze any progress.
This is easy to write about, but harder to do in the exact moment when the presentation disappears.
I live in trifocal land these days. I can even see which portal says what unless my eyes are parallel to the technology AND I tilt my head just right.
Put masking tape over the wrong portal.
Grin and go on.
Yes Dan, I know you weren’t just writing about a particular mishap with technology, but I loved the scenario. It sounded way too familiar so I decided to go with it.
Dauna, Thanks for jumping in again today. YOu always add value.
The scenario is true. I just left the names out. 🙂
Put masking tape over the wrong port! Hindsight is 20/20…
short term-masking tape, long term-write the company and suggest they consider shifting the portals or at least the labels OUT (vga), IN (vga) (Not that I ever made that dumb mistake…eek, a mirror!)
Thank you for he great post Dan! I can see how I can also apply this to being a parent when the kids make a mistake.
Amen to that, Christie. So many (if not all) of Dan’s and this community’s insights are directly applicable to parenting. I find this is especially so as my kids and I navigate their teen years and the scenarios get more complex and multifaceted. The trick for me is to pause for a half-beat and recalibrate before saying anything. This helps me be in the moment and not go with reflexive responses that may have been appropriate when they were younger but not now.
PS: To be honest, it’s a work in progress…
Absolutely Christie. My secret passion is teaching leadership principles to mom’s and dad’s!
Affirmation for your team when a screw-up shows-up starts with their comfort to even approach you. As most leaders, the sooner I’m aware of a screw-up that actually requires my attention…the better. When anyone on my team says to me, “We have a problem”. They can mouth along with me my reply. “No such thing as problems, only solutions,” In fact, some staff will knock on my door and say, “We need a solution.” I love that.
Saying this helps them know I’m on their side. Helps me find focus so I don’t overreact. And, I hope, makes me more approachable when someone does screw up.
Brilliant! “We need a solution” We need more leaders like that. Thanks for sharing your insights.
Excellent wisdom spoken Dan… I love your phrase “overreaction makes you choke on Mosquitos and lose sight of elephants.” This is so true. Thank you for the reminder
Just a few days ago I was choking on a mosquito. Things get out of perspective. It’s funny and sad how small things “choke” us up. Cheers.
Recently, we had a screw-up that was quite public. The employees involved were embarrassed and remorseful. They are good employees, though. The proof? They came forward immediately to acknowledge their part in the situation, they worked together and they submitted a solution that was easily enacted. As a manager, I stepped up to the plate to communicate the gaffe and the solution to management.
When management pointed fingers, albeit not publicly, I was quick to point out that these employees had integrity and took their responsibilities seriously. I reminded everyone that in the last 364 days, they had delivered speedy and error-free results. I confirmed they would not be likely to make this mistake again. First, they will know how to double and triple check their work in this situation in future. Second, a flaw in our system has been exposed, and we fixed it.
I went a step further and let these employees’ direct supervisors know how much I appreciated their honesty, their work ethic and their team spirit in the face of criticism.
In all my years of performance management as an HR professional, I have had to repeatedly face employees who are devastated when they receive discipline, especially if their records are pristine. I have always made a point to tell these people that, even though we must treat all employees fairly, which results in discipline for specific behaviours, we also understand that a 15-minute mistake does not define an employee’s total contribution to the company.
I don’t think we remember that often enough.
KAPOW!! Such a powerful contribution.. thank you
This weekend we did a Christmas play, and it was a blast. 2 of the special effects didn’t work. A fellow actor (he also wrote it) was upset.
I assured him it was fine. The audience had a blast, and the message was received. No harm.
He even got a laugh in a spot he never got one before. Instead of watching the special effect, they were watching him.
Sounds like a positive to me!
Wonderful illustration. Nothing like a good laugh to put mistakes in perspective.
Bring up past mistakes with humor. “I can’t believe how embarrassed I felt when the media projector didn’t work…I thought I was having a heart attack.. (or wet my pants if the crowd can accept that).” Yuk Yuk… we sure learned an important lesson that time! Thanks everyone… Now lets go tame some elephants.
The people are always more important than the problem, you are correct, frustration (or pressure, or pride..or …) can amplify dis-proportionally
Dang thats clear! Thank you Ken.
Good topic Dan. In all seriousness he who has not made a mistake blurt out the condemnation of those who do! Right! Really…..really?
One fella put it this way(can’t remember who so just go along with me on this) ” If you are not making mistakes you are not doing anything”. Maybe it was “enough”, whatever.
Edison I read once tried 10,000 different ways to develop the light bulb till he found a way to work it out, I think that is right, if not you still get the point. What is he had some silly child in an adults body berating him at every turn? What he had was no quitting sense which at times can be an endearing quality. Mostly.
Children react, adults respond! Child on a surfboard, wave comes up, he/she falls off and says……drumroll…..BAD WAVE!!!!!!! Silly wabbit, waves aren’t bad, they are just waves. If you loose your balance if is your fault and your fault alone, grow up.
Things happen to all of us all day long and guess what? I am only upset if I am upsetable, PERIOD! Think about that word in reverse. Upset, setup! Bingo lights going off yet? I am only upset if I set myself up to react that way.
I gave a presentation once. I had a burning desire to deliver my message! We deliver peace of mind! During the presentation lots of stuff did not work out right, come out right, blah blah blah! I just kept barreling ahead sharing my message with unbridled enthusiam, nothing was gonna stop me, nothing did. People can’t hear what you are are saying unless they hear your music. Enthusiam….greek word…enthos…from the inside…..plus iasm….I am sold myself. Get it? Respect!
After the presentation was over and done with during a training at our home office the next week my supervisor told everyone the Boss at that office had called him. She told him I gave the best presentation she had ever seen. I do not share this to brag, I share it to let anyone reading this know don’t sweat small stuff, keep YOUR eye on the prize and complete what you are up to. Keep your balance when all others around you are losing theirs.
So there was this child one day at the beach….early. He was thrilled cause he had found a nest of turtles trudging their way to a swim. He was picking up turtles and helping them get into the big drink quicker. There were hundreds of turtles and an adult walking on the beach wondered by. He laughed at the child and said why are you doing that, you can’t help them all. The child looked right up at him and stated as he set off another turtle into the ocean, “Yeah I know I know but it helped THAT one”! Ok story most times told with starfish but I like turtles, they are cool! Slow, methodical, cool.
There is the rub, eh? Enjoy the world in a child like manner while responding to life as an adult. Not real technical business talk or terms in my posts but kinda all about people. That is kinda like being a Purple Cow(Seth Rodin, excellant read and listen)Two things about all of us! We are all in the people business and we are all selling something! In the people business they are either buying your story or you theirs!
Make your story compelling, keep your eye on the ball, forge ahead despite the obstacles coming your way, respond don’t react.
I can almost see your fingers flying over the keys as I read your comment. Makes me smile. It’s all good but I love “Children react…adults respond” .. .Afraid I’ve been childish a few times.
Thanks for sharing your insights. Make more mistakes.
Thanks Dan I also remember someone writing that most millionaires( if we use that as a way to judge success) just kept failing their way to the top! I try to live each day like I am gonna perish at midnight! Helps give me a perspective. Take care have a great day. Scott
Permission to make mistake enables high performance and mistake free organizations are dead- is a classical example of performing and sick organizations. I agree with you for not calling departmental meeting for small mistakes. The meeting should focus on strategy, action, and options. It should not point out people, but behaviors or habits. I feel meetings are generally time consuming, boring and passive in nature. People do not enjoy meeting. There are some/more element of fear in meeting. There is also polarization component in meetings. I also believe that when thing can be discussed with some people, why to call meetings for all.
I think, leaders should reward people for accepting mistakes. Leaders should also make them believe that mistakes are part of performance. I have seen that organizations have talents, skills and resources and still treated non performing. And the reason is simple: Fear, accusation and blame culture. Employee fear to be blamed, they fear of unfavorable consequences and hence blame others to keep themselves safe. Leaders should keep these points in minds that employees need safety, security and respect. And when ever,it is challenged, they will do everything to keep themselves safe. So, leaders should create culture of safety, security and moral support.
As always, thank you for your insights, Ajay.
The nugget I’m grabbing is “Mistakes are part of performance” … 5 words that change attitudes and encourage hearts. Powerful.
Great piece Dan.
Those mistakes are the portal of a rich mine…with many veins, paths, and options. They do very clearly show leadership mettle.
Was in a meeting yesterday and with an interesting slip o’ the tongue, someone said, probortunity, which became a faux reframe.
Do we have an oppblem moment to learn from?
All depends on your perspective and HOW you choose to respond, er, ah, react.
What a fabtastic comment!
Fantastic post as always – I have a huge tendency to overreact as I am quite passionate but it’s not always useful.
Scott love your remarks re upsettability – reading Rediscovering Life by Anthony de Mello (SJ) at present.
He elaborates this idea beautifully.
Great call on the problem of passion. Not everyone sees the problem of rolling over people, not listening, and overreacting that come along with passion. I have a healthy dose of too much passion that I’ve been learning to manage.
Thanks for mentioning an added resource.
Through the relationship, seeing the leader openly and honestly admit their own mistakes/struggles to people under their authority. Good Leaders often appear to have it all figured out, seeing that they not only make mistakes, but also overcome and confidently adjust gives me hope, and the openness strengthens my Loyalty Bone. We might be in different positions on the harness, but we are all yoked to the same plow with a common goal.
I needed this for something that happened just last night at my restaurant! Thank you so much for this post, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. What a blessing this is to me (and my team! Lol)
I wish my boss reads this!
He always bring everybody in and shout whenever he is angry about someone!
Thanks Dan for the great post as usual
It’s 2018 and this article is still relavent as ever. I’ve had 2 stupid people in leadership positions. 1 is no longer there, but an example she gives is an issue happened where she thought I was at fault, said so loud enough that every staffmember in the kitchen and every patron in the dining area could hear the accusation, and see me as the person that everyone thought was the responsible party for the incident. When evidence to the contrary presented itself, she apologized so quietly so that only myself and 1 other person could hear it (coincidentally, that person was not intended to hear the “I’m sorry”). The rest of the staff thought I was still the screwup and I was really burned out at that point with her.
2. I currently serve under a leader that no matter how small something happens, there’s always a knee-jerk reaction to try to overcorrect, which then causes more unneccesary faults to occur in a chain reation.
They could both stand to read this.
Thank you for this.