At the Autumn 2015 Fortune Leadership Summit in Dallas Texas, we had a short presentation from Rabbi Stephen Baars. Although he only spoke for 10 minutes, his message was powerful! While every leader in the room could understand and agree with his message, I could not help but wonder how many of them actually were violating his wisdom daily in their organizations. His title was “Think Like a Winner,” which was all about how we view and handle mistakes.
One thing I know from my experiences in life, as I am sure you do as well, is that I learn a lot more from my mistakes or losses than from my successes or wins. Many times when you are successful you are not quite sure which actions caused your success. Often you almost feel like you have to continue everything you’ve been doing because you are not sure what worked out so well. However, when you make a mistake, those wrong moves stick out and are obvious. They are a gift. They give you an opportunity to learn. A mistake presents you with an opportunity to become better, yet many squander that opportunity.
Rabbi Stephen said that when someone tells you they never make mistakes, they are lying, unaware, or have not tried to do anything of substance. Following that logic, if you want to have a high-performance organization, you need team members that are making mistakes. The key to progress is how mistakes and the people who make them are handled. Do people frown upon others who make mistakes? How are they spoken to? Are people encouraged to discuss their mistakes? The Rabbi suggests a great question to ask everyone is, “What did you fail at today?” and then celebrate it!
It was suggested that the worst word in the English language is “blame.” While it may not be the worst, it is definitely very damaging. When you blame, you lose your opportunity to teach and learn. When mistakes or negative outcomes occur they present you with two choices — be resentful or be creative. When you are creative you are in problem-solving mode. When you are resentful you are in finger-pointing mode, and problems multiply rather than get resolved. Rabbi Baars suggested that you practice completing your day without any blame. I recommend that you do not allow anyone to blame. Whenever something is not going as it should, everyone involved should be required to identify how they contributed to the problem and be automatically directed to solving the problem. Finger-pointing must be discouraged.
You may be wondering, “Is it okay to keep someone who regularly makes the same mistakes?” That is a different decision, the key words being “the same mistakes”! First you must ask yourself how you contributed. Did you put the right person in the wrong seat? Did you provide enough training, information, support, etc.? Many times, I see people being let go when the recurring problem is an organizational issue rather than a shortcoming in the people being fired. So this is not as clear cut a decision as you think.
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