Making Mistakes Is Critical To Your Success

Fear can be a destabilizing emotion in organizations.  It limits risk taking, inhibits action and worst of all creates a cover your a** (CYA) mentality which results in countless hours of wasted energy.  One the biggest fears we all grapple with to some degree is the fear of being wrong and/or making mistakes.  Far too many employees would rather do nothing or rigorously defend the status quo rather than going out a limb and trying something new or different.  As a result of these fears, most organizations are stuck in a survival mode because success almost always involves taking risks and challenging the current mode of doing business.

All good leaders understand that one of their primary jobs is to address this fear. They strive to create an environment where people push the envelope and take ownership of their work. And, taking ownership means always looking for a better way to do things, even if this means failing at times.  However, not all failures are good.  Mistakes in the pursuit of improvement are usually manageable and almost always informative. Mistakes made due to fear, ignorance or laziness are like a cancer that slowly grows to kill an organization.

I recommend the following actions for leaders who want to better leverage the benefits of making positive mistakes:

1. First and foremost, be public about the fact that you expect that there will be mistakes and that when this happens the only requirement is that the organization learns from the experience and doesn’t repeat the mistake.

2. When you as the leader make a mistake (and you will) openly acknowledge it and let your people know how you intend to be smarter the next time.

3. Make debriefing mistakes a formal management philosophy within the organization that is fully supported by administrative processes and procedures.

4. Publicly acknowledge and promote people within the organization who are reasonable risk takers.  Risk for the sake of risk is never a good thing; however, risks taken after careful consideration and in correct proportion to the potential upside/downside should be rewarded.

5. Walk around and constantly ask your people what they are learning and what interesting mistakes they are making – trust me it works.

6. Create awards/acknowledgements for people who challenge the status quo and tackle tough challenges even when they fail.

7. Carefully screen your managers/ supervisors to ensure they create a work environment that is safe and conducive to encouraging employee initiative.  When you have someone who is a roadblock in this regard, coach and ultimately remove them if they cannot change.

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Ed Robinson

Ed Robinson is the President and Founder of Capacity Building Solutions Inc. (www.capacity-building.com), a consulting firm he started in June 2002 to foc

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