Allow and Learn from Mistakes

By Bernadette Vadurro, CSP

abq-2-webI frequently ask program participants what happens when someone makes a mistake at work.  The answers are always strikingly similar.  Participants respond there is a tendency to deny responsibility for mistakes, to place blame on someone or something else for the error or more often—to cover up or hide the mistake.

 Management guru Tom Peters frequently emphasized that if you are not making any mistakes, you probably are not doing anything at all. So, will some bad decisions be made occasionally? The answer is yes of course, but an occasional bad decision can help educate the rest of the staff. Healthy organizations allow and learn from mistakes.  Leaders in these organizations hedge their bets by providing employee education and training; yet they are aware that mistakes can and will occur. Healthy organization means you are working in an environmental culture where mistakes are part of the learning process.

Sheila Paxton, Former, President of the Institute for Performance Excellence, describes an interesting example of coaching and mentoring in her program on How to Lead a Team[1].  Using the illustration of a gymnastics coach spotting an athlete, Sheila draws the analogy that coaching requires a solid presence to provide physical support, mental guidance and a safety mechanism for the gymnast should she fail to make a jump. In this sense, many industry leaders fail, because the initial coaching and mentoring needed to develop employees is not furnished. Leaders often are penny – wise and pound-foolish when it comes to proper staff training. In effect, subordinates are asked to walk the balance beam; try a few flips, a couple of back bends, with only a handshake and a hearty “Good luck.”  Granted, mentoring and coaching employees is time intensive; however, the end result is competent and proficient employees who are in the long run much more productive in their jobs.