I have a real fear of making mistakes.
I worry about it in relationships, I worried about it as an executive in my corporate life, and I worry about it today as I work to serve my clients.
What if I suggest the wrong thing? What if I screw it up? What if, what if, what if…
There are a lot of corporate cultures out there that make mistakes unsafe. And I think we all know intellectually that this is (ahem!) a mistake. We’re human, every one of us, and that means – we make mistakes!
We also all know intellectually that mistakes are how we learn.
But – and this is important – being able to actually do that – learn from our mistakes – means we have to be willing and open to talking about them.
Many years ago at the company I worked for at the time, I campaigned against the “project post-mortem.” You know, that awful meeting where everyone gets together to discuss everything that went wrong. It’s usually accompanied by more than a little finger-pointing and blame.
This is not what I mean by being willing and open to talk about our mistakes!
Even more years ago, when I was given my very first project to manage and lead, I assembled the team and said, “Look, if there are problems, I want to know. Don’t hide them from me, bring them forward and let’s figure out what to do!” I remember my manager at the time, who was observing, looked quite taken aback. That company was not very forgiving of mistakes.
So, what do you do instead of the post-mortem and instead of burying mistakes?
How do you really, truly, actually create that so-called “safe space”?
Culture is not easy to shift, but you can impact it within your own sphere of influence.
- Be honest and open about the mistakes you make. And if that doesn’t feel safe – I get it. If it’s really unsafe, you might want to think about where you’re working…
- Look for the opportunities. Sometimes something goes differently than expected and it’s not a mistake, but an improvement. How do you bring that forward?
- Don’t just think about how “mistakes are learning opportunities.” For one thing, that’s an awfully trite and eye-rolling statement. Demonstrate it. When someone makes a mistake, ask them what they’ve learned. Not – I hasten to add – in an accusatory way.
- And finally, adopt the lovely approach of Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. When a mistake happens, he gleefully cries, “How fascinating!” I can’t think of a better way to make mistakes into truly safe learnings.Make a mistake? How fascinating! We all know mistakes are for learning ... but do we actually *act* on that?Click To Tweet
Don’t, by the way, forget to allow yourself to make mistakes (and learn from them). You’re just as human as the rest of us.
Want a better approach than the ghastly “project post-mortem”? Of course you do. Download this: “The Discipline of Reflective Review” – it’s a direct link to the PDF, no email required.