Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mistake Making and the Leader

Yesterday I wrote about bad news.  Today I want to talk about a close relative to bad news and that is "mistake making"...specifically mistake making by the direct reports of leaders.  In all my leadership roles I've told my direct reports that I actually wanted them making mistakes.  Why? One is the learning you get from mistakes.  The emotional impact of "getting it wrong" sticks with you longer than sustaining your successes.  No one likes to make them but they give us a reason to reflect on what we thought would happen, what actually happened and why and what to do differently next time.  It's a methodology to improve performance. If you aren't making mistakes then you are probably not taking enough risk or testing innovative and new ways to tackle old problems.  Sometimes this takes the form of too much "guidance seeking"...a way of "delegating problems up".  Second, this is the way you develop the next generation of leaders.....by allowing the mistakes to become development experiences.

There are limits to mistake making....even when learning and developing.  I used to tell younger leaders that, yes, I wanted them making mistakes but I didn't expect them to make every mistake that could possibly be made...there was some level of fundamental competence expected.  Second, I told them I didn't expect to see the same mistake twice...evidence the learning isn't taking place.  Third, no mistakes in the areas of honesty, integrity, or ethics are acceptable.

 Edwards Deming's first principle of quality management was "first drive out the fear".  Peak organizational performance is possible when the leader drives out the fear of punishment for mistakes.

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