Nobody’s Perfect… All We Can Do Is Try To Be

Nobody’s Perfect… All We Can Do Is Try To Be

February 12, 2015

Pete Carroll is not sleeping…  After the now infamous and ill-fated play call by the Seattle Seahawks coach, reports, “While Carroll calls himself an optimist, he admitted to some sleepless nights in the aftermath of the Super Bowl. ‘I wake up and can’t stop thinking about it.’” My work definitely doesn’t have the pressure of the last 20 seconds of the Super Bowl, but I certainly understand those sleepless nights.

Engaged employees, from the factory floor to the stadium sidelines, are personally invested in the outcomes of what they do every day. Research shows that employees want to do meaningful work and to be recognized for their efforts. They want to get it right.

So when mistakes are made, the resulting lack of confidence and sense of futility can push a great employee into their worst mindset and behaviors. Even in the best of times, many experience what Mark LeBusque calls the Impostor Syndrome, where an employee starts to feel unqualified or unworthy.  A bad result or negative (as opposed to constructive) feedback can accelerate that self-doubt. Perfectionists may start to procrastinate, preferring to hold things off rather than make another mistake. One high-visibility mistake can disengage even the most committed employee.

But mistakes can also help an employee – or an organization – to grow. Peter Drucker wrote, “The better a man is, the more mistakes he will make—for the more new things he will try. I would never promote a man into a top-level job who has not made mistakes, and big ones at that. Otherwise, he is sure to be mediocre. Worse still, not having made mistakes he will not have learned how to spot them early and how to correct them.” An organization committed to engaging employees and growing leaders must also be prepared to handle mistakes in a productive way.

It is possible for the employee and the individual to recover from the mistake, if a culture exists that allows people to learn and move on. Howard Shore, business coach at Activate Group suggests that leaders take the following steps when an employee has made a mistake:

  1. Get the Facts – Learn all you can about the mistake.
  2. Reflect – Understand what might be done differently in the future and determine how to turn this into an opportunity for you and others to learn and to make the organization stronger.
  3. Communicate – Positively communicate what has been learned and what should happen in the future.
  4. Reassure –  Reassure those involved in the mistake that you are on the same team and that you view mistakes as progress.
  5. Forget – Do not dwell on past mistakes. Move on and think positively as to how you will bounce back even stronger.

It is also important for leaders or managers to consider whether or not the employee had the resources and training needed to get things right, and to make changes as needed to the organization.

An employee who has made a mistake – and owned up to it – can ultimately be even more engaged and committed to their work, if they have been treated fairly and given the opportunity to learn from it.  As Shore writes, “‘Failure’ is a state of mind, but when leaders view errors as learning experience organizations bounce back even stronger.”