Make Mistakes – Avoid Screw Ups
Anyone who says mistakes are no big deal needs an attitude adjustment. When you celebrate the wrong mistake it’s a screw up.
The way you handle mistakes makes or breaks leadership.
The path to success is paved with mistakes. Great mistake-makers win. Lousy mistake-makers lose.
Celebrate mistakes made while reaching forward.
William Strong put it this way, “The only time you don’t fail is the last time you try anything — and it works.”
But, some mistakes are screw ups to be avoided.
Repeated mistakes may point to weakness. Deal with the weakness, forget the mistake. When you deal with the weakness, the mistake goes away. Deal with weaknesses by:
Telling someone to do better doesn’t strengthen weakness. It frustrates everyone.
Successful leaders address weaknesses that cause repeated mistakes.
- Resistance and rebellion. Intentionally ignoring policies or procedures isn’t a mistake.
- Neglect. The surgeon who cut off the wrong leg was negligent.
- Sabotage. Never celebrate mistakes that result from intentional foot dragging, for example.
- Repeated. “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” George Bernard Shaw
Those who love irresponsibility minimize consequences.
Some mistakes are bad decisions that call for consequences. Celebrating mistakes isn’t about ignoring consequences for bad decisions.
Never affirm bad decisions unless you want more of them.
Learn from mistakes. Bring consequences on bad decisions.
Celebrate mistakes, but punish:
- Unethical decisions.
Stabbing someone in the back isn’t a mistake. Its evil. Stealing isn’t a mistake. Its a crime. Lying isn’t a mistake. Its unethical.
Not all mistakes are learning experiences. Don’t celebrate mistakes that shouldn’t happen in the first place.
Celebrate learning experiences; take action to prevent screw ups.
What types of mistakes are acceptable?
How are you celebrating mistakes?
He who does nothing, never makes a mistake.
Thanks swo8. Truth.
Just try to learn from them, n’est pas?
Good article/post. We are in the midst of an issue at work with a subcontractor who does not “come clean” but allows us to “discover” his mistakes, in spite of conversation, documentation, etc. Unfortunately this amplifies the problem by not only impacting technical performance but schedule too! – ather than containing the problem it spins larger! Putting channels in place to open this vendors communication has proven challenging.
The point I’m (awkwardly) trying to make is that we can deal with honest mistakes and put remedial steps in place, but not telling us is inexcusable.
Thanks Ken. Here’s what I take from your comment. Hiding mistakes is a mistake.
This leads to the difficulty of feeling like we’ll be punished if we come clean.
Accountability and punishment are different activities (yet I realize they might feel similar to many folks) If someone comes forward and says “I’ve tried several times, but I can’t make this part to spec.” I view their long term potential much different than someone who ships units out of spec for us to discover.. The first is a containable problem, the second is not!
Thanks Ken. Accountability and punishment are excellent terms to add to ideas about mistake-making.
How are the tensions between learning from useful mistakes and accountability handled? Accountability may feel like punishment as you indicate.
I see no issues with accountability and intentional violations of policy, for example.
How are the tensions between learning from useful mistakes and accountability handled? — Communication and a discussion of “appropriateness” for the task — “We understand your companies capabilities better today and while you are appropriate for X-section of our business, you are not for Y-section.
-OR- “We wanted to do business together but your business practice was not appropriate for our needs.” If they ask detail provide the facts…
Thanks Ken. I have a sense of transparency and candor, two powerful and often neglected qualities.
Mistakes that happen while learning a process are acceptable as long at they learn from them. If one is afraid of making mistakes …. things crawl to a halt.
Thanks Michael. The fear of making a mistake may be one of the most debilitating mistakes of them all.
I enjoy your insights…keep the
m coming 🙂 I’ll use them and pass them on!
Hi Dan! Love reading Leadership Freak! Lots of good insight! One line you had ‘Lousy mistake-makers loose’ should be ‘lose’ 🙂
Thanks Carolyn. I’m on it.
I went to a leadership conference and there was an activity we participated in…It was essentially demonstrating that missteps are ok, but when made more than once it becomes an ongoing mistake with dire consequences.
Thanks dapowell2014. Learn don’t repeat.
To Ken Mason: Ken, is the source/root cause of the issue with your sub-contractor an integrity OR a fear issue? Each is addressed/solved differently.
Sara – thanks for your comment.. I believe its integrity, however I see it more as “style” of operation than something deceitful. None-the-less at our end it makes things very difficult.
the key issue here is trust!
I need to trust my people will escalate issues, even when they believe they can handle them.
A discussion on issues, and how they plan to handle them, can be an educational experience for the entire team.
My people need to trust I am not going to over react to bad news and will help them be successful.
I hold myself accountable to say “thank you” whenever I get bad news.
My people, and my customers, need to trust I will set a standard of performance, for both of them, and then hold them accountable.
Mistakes happen…… once. Maybe twice…. but no more without taking some concreate action. Training, documentation, audit, etc.
Thanks Len. It’s great that you focus on trust when it comes to mistakes. One area of trust is believing that the person who made the mistake was doing their best.
Intentional mistakes are a horse of a different color.
I also get the feel of predictability and consistency from your comment. When teams wonder or fear what our response is going to be, they grow hesitant to come to us.
I once learned from the CEO of a fortune 350 company that “I don’t care if you fail, as long as you do so cheaply and can recover quickly”. Taking chances and risks are natural parts of business. I make mistakes all the time, but I’ve only once made a mistake that cost my company money.
I believe people who never make mistakes are either great suck-ups, defer blame to others, or never take risks.
Thanks John. Very eloquently put. The ability to move forward hinges on our willingness to risk mistakes.
If you’ve only lost money once, maybe you should make more mistakes. 🙂
I’d actually love to, but I’m in a very risk-averse company in a risk-averse industry. Maybe at the next step in my career.
I keep telling my team – failing responsibly is different from failing fast
Thanks Vijay. Love “failing responsibly.” Well said.
Your first sentence says it all, and I agree 100%. It is all in how you handle the mistakes. You have clearly and concisely captured the types of “mistakes” we see all the time. And you are right, many are not mistakes! Thank you for helping me to recognize this. Mistakes in the course of learning and trying to do a good job are almost always acceptable. The vast majority of mistakes can be corrected. Those that can’t may need to be viewed as an investment in the growth of a good employee or a leadership lesson. Bad decision “mistakes” are the most challenging to deal with, but need to be addressed in order for the organization/team to move forward.
Mistakes are learning tools. If you are punished for making mistakes, then you fear making a mistake because of the consequences and also self-esteem is likely damaged. A good leader acknowledges mistakes and empowers the person with direction and advice. Just my two cents….
Mistakes cost money, no mistakes cost more than money. It cost a lack of knowledge and experience.
Thanks Alberto. Powerful!