I Made a Mistake
Image source by Petr Kratochvil
I called a person to confront an awkward leadership blunder.
Mistakes aren’t the issue; what you do with them is.
8 wrong approaches to mistakes that matter:
- Mad Monkey approach: Jumping around making loud noises and pointing fingers.
- Chicken approach: Brooding. Let’s sit on these eggs until something ugly hatches.
- Possum approach: Let’s play dead. Maybe they’ll go away.
- Squirrel on Steroids approach: Trying harder and harder without adapting.
- Lounging Cat approach: It’s not that bad, someone will deal with it.
- Tiger approach: Attack.
- Weasel approach: Blame.
- Sloth approach: We’ll deal with this later.
Tough conversations are tough, but necessary.
Sooner is better than later with mistakes that matter.
Before confronting mistakes:
- Clarify. Get the facts. What really happened?
- Deal with emotion. Never confront while you’re mad, hurt, or pointing fingers.
- Plan the conversation. Write down main points. Confrontation almost never goes as planned but plan anyway.
- Determine desired behavioral results. What needs done?
- Establish emotional outcomes. How do you want people to feel when you’re done?
Attitude toward mistakes:
“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” James Joyce.
Seek better, rather than perfect. Arrival is a myth. “You don’t have to go all the way to bright, just make things better.” Doug Conant, author of TouchPoints.
Four words that changed everything:
I called to deal with a leadership mistake. The first thing out of their mouth was, “I made a mistake.” Boom! Everything shifts.
Futures emerge after mistakes are owned, not until. Mistakes anchor life in the past until you say, “I screwed up.”
You look strong when you own mistakes.
Tip: Own it; never excuse it.
Final step: We scheduled a face-to-face to reconnect as leaders and clarify future steps.
What wrong approach to mistakes do you most frequently see?
How do you confront mistakes others make? What about your own?
This is a great list of what not to do – I’ve seen so many of these over the years. I’ve worked with a lot of possums over my career.
Being assertive in your communication, focusing on what you observed and how things can be improved is a fantastic way to address mistakes. Even your own error.
Have a fantastic Friday.
For some reason, playing dead seems easier. But it’s actually harder over the long run. But, it’s still tempting.
Thanks for saying “focus on what you observed.” Confronting imagined attitudes or behaviors results in argument and blame. Just say what you see.
It does seem easier to ignore the situation and hope it goes away. Not likely.
People can’t argue if you give specific “I have observed ….” feedback. It can diffuse a potentially hostile situation and allows them to say what they intended.
Treating others the way u want 2 be treated.
Treating O Possums meanly can be dangerous because O Possums can bite u very badly & an O Possums’ bites r like 10 snake bites.
Their teeth look vicious
Dan, thanks for reminding us that planning the conversation is important. Writing down main points gives you a chance to figure out what’s specifically work-related, emotions and all. Although these tough talks rarely go as planned – (pssst, they do often go better than planned) – preparedness is key.
Here is something I’d never put in words: “Establish emotional outcomes. How do you want people to feel when you’re done?” That’s great advice!
Love this blog. It’s applicable to investigations as well as any other tough conversation.
Thank you Lynn.
You are so right. Just like this conversation couldn’t have gone better. If we just address issues in a timely way they often go better than the worst that keeps bouncing around in our heads.
Re: emotional outcomes. This is something I’ve started thinking about within the last year or so. Answers are surprising. Sometimes the emotional outcomes are about me, “I want to feel validated” for example. Frankly, that’s usually a distraction.
For me, emotional outcomes include things like: hopeful, motivated, challenged, supported.
And then, after it’s done – let it go.
As part of the process of owning up to a mistake or addressing a mistake someone else has made, make sure that there’s a clear expectation that when it’s done, it’s done.
That way, you and the other person can grow a bit, understand each other a bit more, agree to disagree if necessary, but ultimately, move on positively.
Great post, Dan. Have a good weekend.
Thanks for adding that KB!
People can beat themselves up. Thats no good. What I said to this person was, “Let’s not circle this anymore. Lets put it in a bucket, set it aside, and leave it alone.”
The way I feel is if mistakes are not being made no one is doing anything. We are human after all.
What really irks me is the type of mistake. It is one thing to screw up out of ignoirance. If I just do not know I do not know and the mistale shows that. On the other hand a mistake of carelessness really makes me goofy.
Making the same mistake twice is another happenstance that is like a stick poking me in the gut. Hate those.
The way I try to handle all these situations is simple, tried and true. I try to remember when addresing these situations with others to treat them like I would like to be treated. Then drop it and carry on with something else important right in front of my ever so cute mug.
Be gentle, be kind, make my point and move on, yeah that’s the ticket.
The Dude Abides, something useful to always remember!
Great add to the conversation. I appreciate categorizing types of mistakes… careless, repeated, ignorance… that’s helpful.
Coach John Wooden said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes”
Apologise. Always reframes things in my experience. 🙂
Isn’t it amazing how an apology where we take responsibility totally change the spirit and direction of a conversation. Powerful.
Sure would be great if everyone followed these simple steps before confrontation. Nice job Dan…
Thanks Stephenreno… frankly, a lot of this was learned by making mistakes… 🙂
This is such an important topic for leaders, and your tips are excellent Dan, in my opinion. Stephen Covey, in “7 Habits…,” said it all: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” When I combine that principle with my intention to be mindful before mindlessly taking reactive action, we have a platform for a better outcome. I find that while it’s often useful to determine what caused the problem, it may be more productive to accept where we are without judgment, pivot to imagine a solution, then plan the way there.
I wrote a blog post a while back http://bit.ly/tryagps in an analogy about my car’s navigation system. When I tell “Julie” (not my Garmin’s real name) to go “there,” she does not need to know, nor does she ask me to explain how or why I got to my starting point in the first place. In other words, she does not judge what brought me here, she simply focuses on how to get me to my intended destination.
Thank you Lowell.
There’s such power and freedom in starting where you are rather than dragging all the baggage with you. It’s a lesson I keep learning.
I broke a subordinates trust this week. It was unintentional, but a result of letting my guard down. I make mistakes. This one bothered me more than usual because this subordinate is my main advocate. I owned it strong. I was impressed and humbled at how she approached and handled the situation. My failure was worth being exposed to her success and development. Nonetheless, I must remain guarded with trusted information. As painful as it can be, there’s no greater joy than learning leadership lessons from those I’m privileged to lead.
Thank you Keegan. You honor us with your story.
We’ve all done this. I hate when it happens. But, as you indicate, owning it and taking corrective action almost always opens the door for restoration and forward movement.
Where would we be without second chances?
But I think you missed, Godzilla Meets Bambi, where the Big Bad Boss (spelled backwards, that is self-explanatory) simply STOMPS little Bambi into fertilizer.
There is also the whitewater solution, where The Boss simply pushes that person in their kayak into the big rapid and maybe stands there with a rope. Yeah, maybe on the rope thing. Think, “sink or swim” but add major rapids and rocks…
Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled. (Frank Navran)
“Downhill ain’t all that much fun in a Big River with Big Rocks.” (Scott Simmerman)
Thanks Dr.Scott. Great add. I’m loving the Godzilla/Bambi dynamic. Of course, I’m a bit dark.
Oh, one more tip:
“Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There!”
Taking a moment before going monkey or getting all squirrel is often useful to get a bit of perspective. Dissociate for a moment and look at the situation from different angles. The NLP stuff is all over this…
Mistake making is natural. One should not fear of making mistakes. Those who think of not making mistake do not do anything. And those who claim that they never made mistake fool other. I agree with you that we should accept out mistakes, that provides strength and courage to do right things. Most of the times, we do not realize on our mistake, we do not try to see our actions. And this makes us more prone to make mistakes. Repeated behaviour to make mistake is deliberate action. Making new mistakes is acceptable since it provide other ways not to repeat it. While repetition shows laziness, arrogance and inertia.
I appreciate when people making mistakes share with others. I encourage them to do new things but not to worry about making mistakes but ask them not to repeat. I also provide my example in making mistakes, but more than that I show them how my mistake taught me and what I achieved from my mistakes.
Thank you Ajay.
Love how you added the personal side to this conversation. When you’re addressing the mistakes of others, use your own mistakes both to encourage and instruct! I can see how that builds connection and trust.
Really a practical one.
Dan, Great job, as we mature I believe we all have experienced most if not all listed, isn’t life grand..
Thanks Tim. Yup life is grand. 🙂
Dan, another great topic!
I have come to a realization that peoples’ approaches to mistakes are often a direct reflection of the tone set by the boss/leader/manager in how they receive and react to hearing about a mistake. I have seen all these approaches — and have used many of them myself.
It takes a person who is totally comfortable in their own skin (absence of ego, absence of fear, absence of anger, strong sense of perspective, etc.) to hear the news of a mistake and respond in such a way to A. mitigate the impact of the mistake, and B. have it be a learning experience. The simple fact of the matter is no knowledge has ever been gained without mistakes being made along the way. Then, an important metric, if you will, is that the same mistake not be repeated.
My personal approach is to not only admit the mistake to my boss, but to also provide some thoughts on how to resolve the mistake to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Thank you Scott.
Challenging thought: leaders impact the way others deal with mistakes. Truth.One more example of the influence of leadership.
Fearful leaders inspire fear.
Fake leaders invite others to be fake.
“Perfect leaders” have followers who don’t take risks.
Dan, Wonderful treatment. I love the animals.
Repairing a mistake begins when we first admit it.
Thats the truth, Dan
Dan, This may sound like an elementary question — and it is a tad personal, I suppose — but I am truly amazed by how you are able to generate your Leadership Freak blog seven days a week. How do you do it? I love writing; but I can’t even make myself keep a journal on a regular basis. Heck, I can’t even keep up with the *reading* of seven blogs a week!
I am doubly impressed because blog quantity is one thing; but blog quality is a whole other matter. And the quality of your blog is consistently of value to your audience. I am so glad one of my staff “turned me on” to Leadership Freak.
Thanks, Scott Butler
Very true, Scott. Dan has talent, and uses it for others’ good, day after day. This cannot be easy, probably is only fun some of the time. He appears to be an excellent steward of his God-given talent, and leading a rather large virtual audience down a useful path of exploration.
Thank you, Dan.
Thanks for your kind words. I just get up in the morning and start typing. Sometimes I’ve chosen a topic the day before. Once in awhile I’ve jotted down a few thoughts. But mostly I get up and type.
I’ve posted over a thousand times. I’m still learning how I like to do it.
There are two motivations:
1. Give back to the leadership community.
2. Learn to be a better leader myself. Writing is learning.
Thanks for asking and Marc, thank you for joining in.
Started this post laughing and ended pretty pensive. Thank you. I have learned admitting early that I made a mistake helps get everyone to moving toward a solution (most of the time). Its like putting on a pair of glasses. That admission allows you to see beyond the incident and think about what is better moving forward.
Any thoughts on working with people who seem to relish you making a mistake rather than moving forward? I find that while there aren’t many people like this, certain work environments seem to nurture that type of thinking.
Very draining to work with those few individuals. Is there a way to move forward with them?
Thank you rwynne. Great question. I know exactly what you mean.
The first shift leaders make is from us to them. We learn leadership is about others. We make the “me” part of leadership service to them.
The second shift is becoming a person who always moves the agenda forward. We aren’t leading if we aren’t moving forward. Sounds simple but some don’t get it.
With those who love to get stuck in the complaint but can’t move forward:
You’re right it is draining and frustrating!
People need to feel heard. Shutting down all complaints won’t work.
Here’s something I say, after listening to why things won’t work and all the problems we face. “I think I hear you on what can’t be done. A lot of that makes sense. What do you think can be done?”
Remind people of the goals we’re trying to accomplish and ask, “Is there something we could do today/tomorrow that is a small step toward achieving that goal?”
Then just be quiet and listen.
Sometimes they have to go around the “can’t do” tree a few times…just keep asking what can we do… When you get an answer. Perhaps shift to “What can you do?” OR “How can I help you do (whatever they came up with)
Dealing with this is a leadership challenge. You have my best.
Owning it! “I made a mistake!” Where can one go with that except forward! Love it! Great post!
Thanks Mary… here’s to owning and moving forward!
Oh wow! How accurate! I love this post, Dan. It gets at the heart of the matter: owning mistakes. Here’s an idea, too: your team’s mistakes must be your mistakes. Own them. Take responsibility for them. Then make it better.
Thank you Justin.
YOu’re nailing an important part of leading teams. It’s our mistake! We’re in this together.
Great insights! This is so good. Until my current church (no, really) the only approach to conflict I witnessed was the Possum approach. And I can tell you that the issues NEVER go away. In fact, they almost always mulitply and grow into something horrible and uncontrolable. These are healthy reminders for all of us.
Thank you Brent.
Church world is a great place to pretend everything’s ok, when it isn’t! Maybe we think speaking the truth is an offense to supporting others. In reality, it’s the first step toward real support.
Best wishes with your ministry.
Dan, I LOVE your animal metaphors!!!!! What a wonderful way to portray very delicate “ego” behaviours that thwart resolutions.
I especially resonate with “Establish emotional outcomes. How do you want people to feel when you’re done?”. For is this not the very essence of Customer Experience philosophy? It’s not just about what we do to or for a customer. It’s also about how we make them feel.
Thank you Michelle. I appreciate the customer service dimension you bring to the table. Great add. It opens the mind to new ways of thinking.
There is a saying in French, “Une faute avouée est moitié pardonnée”, or “An acknowledge fault is half forgiven”. Nothing defuses a situation better than saying, “I was wrong”.
“Excuse me” is not as good, for it requires the other to be ready to do excuse a fault when they might need time to digest it. It is far better simply to acknowledge one’s own error, offer to make amends if necessary, try to avoid doing the same wrong thing again, and telling the other person that you are open to rebuke if required.
Thank you Marc.
Thanks also for translating the French to English. Love the saying!
We do have tendencies to soft-shoe or minimize mistakes. I don’t always say it because it really stings but “I was wrong” is the most potent way I’ve found to say it.
So important to own up to a mistake right away and never ever start blaming anyone. Also, analyzying why a person made that mistake in a constructive manner helps to prevent new mistakes and be more aware of one’s actions.
Thank you Mary.
Perhaps one way to analyze a mistake is to ask, “What went wrong?” In this case I asked, What motivated you to do that?
I strongly believe that mistakes help us to become a better person and to improve our reaction when we are in problems.
When someone that i know make a mistake, i usually explain my opinion about what he/she did wrong but always with respect. Actually when i make a mistake i always think about what i did wrong and then try to solve it.
Thank you Garza.
We learn more from mistakes than successes. 🙂
It takes a very big person to own up to his mistakes. I highly respect people who are able to admit that they did wrong and are willing to work with others to correct the wrong. This admission opens the door to learning and improvement. It also promotes credibility.
Thank you Tagrid.
YOu added “credibility” to the benefits of owning mistakes. Great add! The person who said, “I made a mistake” went way up in the respect factor.
I would contend that a person will address a mistake in the manner that their organizational culture expects. In other words, if you have an individual that makes a mistake in a culture of blame than they are not going to admit or be able to learn from their mistakes. If an organization is supportive and allows for learning from all mistakes than mistakes are treated as lessons learned. Far too many times mistakes are looked at in an unfavorable view when in fact they should be embraced as a way of positive training without having to search for problems.
There is however a distinct difference in “how” the action/in-action was made in that it will determine the correct approach in dealing with it and that centers on “intent”. Was the action/in-action caused with willful intent or with purposeful disregard? If these factors exist at the origin of the action than it is no longer considered a mistake and you are dealing with a whole different issue.
Great post! Alway a pleasure to spend sometime reading your blog on a Sunday morning.
I believe one has to know how to master the different approache outlined here. In my opinion, every situation is different. There are situations where a let go is better and there are others where as a Manager and leader should step in. Getting involved at all times makes the team rely on the leader too much. When I see mistakes coming, I sometimes let them happen to make sure we learn from it in the future.
To wind up, I totally agree with you, the most and foremost important thing in difficult conversations are feelings and emotions, these two are very difficult master.
I truly enjoyed the instruction on how to confront, including realistic expectations. This is all about being assertive vs. submissive, manipulative, passive-aggressive, or aggressive. Great skills to learn in a leadership position, or any other position for that matter!
I love the analogies you use. Creative and eye catching. I’ve had my moments of mistakes in a very unforgiving world. I’ve always owned them and then blamed myself, making me the victim. I live in a much different world now, empowered to make changes. Love it, thanks to my own leadership.
Earlier in my life coaching I wrote a blog post about “Perfection is Overrated,” if you are interested, here’s the link, http://couragetoadventure.com/perfection-is-overrated/
Great post Dan. It’s so valuable for leaders to realize that mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow rather than hide and obfuscate. It may require practicing some self-awareness and vulnerability, but admitting mistakes is part of becoming a more balanced, healthy leader.
Great post Dan! I did Tai Chi for years and I am just getting back into it after a decade of non-practice. Your examples, with the animals, made me think of how my response to mistakes is about Chi – energy. Chang developed an initial set of exercises that imitated the movements of animals – snake, crane dragon, leopard and crane. Some movements are named for animals or birds, such as “White Crane Spreads Its Wings.” Taking the strength and discipline developed when movement is slower focused, as it is in Tai Chi, applies to my leadership success as well. I tend to be open to admitting my mistakes …except when I am very stressed – which is when I usually make mistakes. So, I must remember to be strong, steady, consistent & to breath so I can reduce mistakes and be in a state of mind to handle them when they arise in a manner that increases progress and trust.
Thank you for your post.