Mistakes: A Chance to Create Leaders

May 20, 2019
May 20, 2019 Joe Britto

Last week I ended the blog on change management by saying every time we interact with team members is a chance to grow a leader. This time I’d like to think about how we create leaders in the face of a mistake.

The Guardian carried a story that’s a great example of just that. The story? Diner accidentally gets £4,500 bottle of wine in Manchester restaurant. It’s great not just because someone ordered a £260 bottle of wine and got a Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001: a good night out just got better. It’s great because despite being £4,240 out of pocket, the Hawksmoor Manchester tweeted this:

Tweet from Hawkesmoor congratulations to customer

Leadership When Mistakes Happen

Cool, you might say, but why write a blog about it?

Because this whole website and all my work is about mindset. A leader’s mindset to be specific. I define a leadership mindset as a way of looking at the world, borne out of experiences that leads to a sit of behaviours. And that tweet is the kind of behaviours I’m referring to.

The kind of mindset that sees mistakes not as a reason to berate someone; tell them what they should have done, put them on performance management, or worse still, fire them. And though I’ve never met the leaders at Hawksmoor Manchester, I congratulate them because their mindset led them to write that tweet.

That tweet wasn’t just good publicity (it probably was). It wasn’t even just making lemons out of lemonade – both of those would have been accomplished with just the first sentence in the tweet. What the second sentence does is demonstrate a behaviour of the attribute of creating leaders.

When It’s all On You

But before we get to that, let’s acknowledge that when the stuff hits the fan, the hard part about handling a mistake gracefully as a leader is knowing what that mistakes costs. Maybe it’s not always financial. Sometimes the risk is to our reputation as leaders – if a team member makes a mistake that’s on us after all.

So yes, I get it, it’s hard. But if we see the mistake as a stain on the employee’s record we miss the point. And the point is this: that employee has learnt a lesson. Now our choice is to help them grow because of that; or we help them shrink.

Speaking to People’s Higher Self

That behaviour of create leaders I mentioned? It’s the headline of this section. When someone makes a mistake chances are they’re thinking the worse. They might be thinking they’ll have to repay money they don’t have; might lose their job; might not get a reference to find their next one. For some it might feel like a career ending moment. Whatever version their fear may take, it’ll be on their mind when we as leaders speak to them. We can either confirm all of those by giving them a hard time or we can do something else.

Speaking to someone’s higher self is that something else. When we do that, we understand people make mistakes. We understand that most people learn from those mistakes. And we understand that how we treat the employee has an impact on them, the whole team, and the company.

Sound like a lot’s at stake? You’d be right.

Creating Leaders

Mistakes are chances to learn. We all know that. A good staff member, the one you believed in when you hired them, will do that. In the wine example how likely do you think it is the staff member will do that again? More than that, mistakes might show flaws in a process. That’s a leadership opportunity. Who knows, maybe the person can be involved in developing a better process.

What I’m getting at here is how we treat staff members who make a mistake matters because it models how we want others to lead when it’s their turn. And that establishes the leadership culture in your organization. And it’s that culture that informs your leadership pipeline.

Every time we interact with a team member we’re modelling the leadership culture, and growing a leadership pipeline. Every single time. And nowhere is that more amplified than when things go wrong.

 

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