How To Make Wonderful Mistakes.

Over the past week, someone I’ve been working with let me know that they made a pretty big mistake. One that might affect me and my business. Don’t worry - it’s not that big. I’m okay.

It’s how she let me know. In her email, she alluded to missing a critical requirement, but never formally apologized and said it was ‘her fault’. Although we discussed this in-depth over the past few weeks, it ultimately (in her opinion), was my fault for not catching this.

In addition, she pretty well closed the door on any possibility of reversing her mistake. And she didn't provide any options moving forward.

Story over — now let’s get to the meat of the post:

Mistakes are natural, occur frequently, and are a part of life. Once you acknowledge this, you'll be a much happier and stress-free person.

In fact, with my teams, I encourage mistakes, because they promote learning and forward movement. If you or your team makes no mistakes, you probably aren’t taking risks, venturing into unknown territory, or pushing yourselves harder to deliver faster, better, and with more quality.

So here are some of my rules about mistakes:

  1. Expect that they will happen. If you tip-toe around everything you do, afraid of making a mistake, you will never accelerate you team, project or career. Trust me on this.
  2. When a mistake occurs, treat it as a learning opportunity. Get your team to acknowledge the mistake, understand how it happened, and come up with their own solutions to ameliorate it quickly. And also, how to make sure it never happens again.
  3. Don't get angry. If it is a serious mistake, still handle it as listed above, but let the team understand the gravity of the situation factually, but not emotionally.
  4. Take responsibility for your screw-up immediately. Acknowledge it, say you’re sorry, come with solutions, and a process (and promise) that it will never happen again. You will be instantly respected by your superiors and peers.
  5. Don’t point fingers or bring a cadre of fellow players into the mistake. You made it, take responsibility for it. And don’t blame your superiors, your customers, or anyone else ‘if they didn’t catch it’. You are accountable, it your problem now.
  6. Stop talking about it and take action. Most problems or issues can be fixed or turned around immediately. There were many times I went to my boss and said that I screwed up, this is what happened, and I’ve already fixed the problem. All I got from him was, “Nice work.” Boy did I feel great afterward.

Now go break some eggs!

Have you or your team ever made a mistake? How did you handle it? How did others react?

Image by Plindberg at Flickr.