Tag Archives: moral compass

Mistakes, Failures, and the “Bad Things” that Happen

We all make them.  We all have the “oops” moment.  We all have that inner voice that says “that was the wrong way to have handled that.”  As no one is perfect.  Mistakes, miscues, errors, failures, and other perceived bad things happen.  Yet, one of your best skills and ultimately your success uses these “uh oh” moments to learn and adapt.  And, your “uh oh” may turnout to be the best thing that ever happened.

It is said that the only things that are guaranteed in life are death and taxes.  I would like to add – that one will make mistakes.  In fact there are cultures, like the Navaho, that say if the “perfect rug is ever woven, the world will come to an end.”  Thus, mistakes are taken as signs and are even built in to the weave.  Sometimes, failures turn out to be bigger successes than what was trying to be achieved in the first place – take for example the Post-It (TM) and Teflon (TM) – these were experiments gone bad.

Yet, we seem to still focus on the “dark cloud” view of mistakes and not the “silver lining.”  These errors are how we learn and grow.  I have always said – that you learn much more from your errors, failures, and mistakes than you ever could by just succeeding.  As parents and teachers – while it is hard to do – you have to let the “learner” make mistakes (provided they don’t get into serious trouble). If you don’t – how will they ever truly learn.

We are now living in a Society – that tries to remove the “bad things.” It tries to abolish failure – everyone has to succeed.  This is such a great dis-service to creating strong individuals.

Think about it.  Pick one of your personal achievements.  Didn’t you have to overcome some adversity?  Didn’t you make an error, or misstep along the way?  Was there someone who said – there is no way you can do that – and you had to prove them wrong?  Did it take time?  My guess is that you would have to say yes to most of the questions above for it to make your list of achievements.

As leaders our job is to guide.  In order to make tomorrow’s leaders we have to let individuals make errors – again provided that they do not result in total catastrophe.  We can’t remove the consequences of errors either.

If we remove the consequences of the error – we have removed the learning as well.  Individuals have to learn how to accept their own mistakes, own them and learn from them.  This is what helps us grow.

The ultimate trick is to find the balance between learning, finding the “silver lining” and benefiting from the error and not creating a catastrophe.  By understanding our own mistakes – we can learn from others – without necessarily making the same mistake (this helps in the preventing of the catastrophe).  As leaders – knowing what “safe” mistakes are is essential.  For example – making an error in a presentation to the work group is one thing – making that same error in a presentation to stockholders is another matter.

We as individuals have to become comfortable with admitting our mistakes.  We have to work to put things “right”.  We have to make amends.  Hiding our errors is hurtful – not only to us and our organizations but may be a catastrophe down the road.  Our “uh ohs” need to come out in the open – so that everyone can learn from them.  When we can laugh about them down the road – we know that we have learned and have found that “silver lining”.

 

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How do you handle …..?

As leaders, mentors, and sponsors; we are all faced with difficult situations.  Sometimes they are situations you are prepared and trained for like an accident, bomb threat, or process upset.  There are other situations where you aren’t or can’t even imagine how you could be prepared.  Examples of these catastrophic situations are the tsunami in Japan, the major typhoon in the Philippine’s. The emergency plans only went so far in these examples.  However for each of us, sometimes the unthinkable happens on a smaller scale – your boss is arrested for drug dealing or something worse, a colleague falsifies data which you have relied on for your grant or project proposal, your salesman promises that the production plant will meet the quality specification that will require violation of permit conditions, etc.

We all have a blind spot where we think that none of this can ever happen to me.  Yet, everyday there is the chance that this can happen to you.  In my personal history my greatest fear was being on the six o’clock news with an environmental incident.  Luckily for me, I had been planning for such an event, i.e. how would I handle the worst thing that could happen? Recently, this same type of thinking was presented in an anecdote by Canadian Astronaut Chris Hatfield.

Chris Hatfield was working with some individuals when they learned that Elton John was coming to their area.  They decided that they could use his fame as a International Space Station commander to meet Elton John.  He related this story – what was the worst thing that could happen?  Elton John would met them and learn that he plays guitar and had played David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” on the space station, and would ask him to come up on stage and play something with him.  The likely candidate song would be “Rocket Man”.  So, he went home and learned the song.  Ultimately, he was prepared when just such a scenario played out.

While most of us would never think of Chris Hatfield’s situation as the worst thing that could happen, it does illustrate how we as leaders can prepare.  In my case, I had media training, and knew what I would be up against both internally within the company and externally with the reporters and the regulatory agencies.  No I did not have a specific plan ahead of time, but I knew how to buy those precious minutes that allowed us to pull a team together and develop a plan.

It is how we have prepared, even if it is not for the specific event, and how we “act” that defines us as leaders.  I have put act in quotes because there are many situations where we may have the best plans, and training but fail to act that gets us into trouble.  This is generally referred to as analysis paralysis or there are so many contingency plans – we don’t know which one to use.

So, these are my personal tips for preparing for the worst:

1) Define your worst.  What is the worst thing that can happen?  Some things are not under your control, but do you have an action plan for your worst?  You might also ask you what is keeping you awake at night?  This may help you define your worst.

2) What resources are at your disposal if the worst should happen?  If your worst is that your house may burn down in a wildfire – where would you go?  Who would you contact?  What insurance is in place? How would you communicate with family?  The list could go on.  From a professional level, what would you do if your company went bankrupt? What is your plan B?

3) What training do you have that you can utilize if the worst should happen?  In my case, it was media training.  In someone else’s, it may be logistics or counseling.  If you don’t have the skills currently, you might consider working on them or making sure that you have someone or some reference that you can access in the event of  worst happening.

4) What is your moral compass?  Let’s look at the worst being someone has falsified data or made a false reporting to a regulatory agency or maybe you are being asked to do something you feel is unethical or dishonest.  What are you going to do?  How are you going to balance the request with your personal values.  From my personal history, I found it to be quite liberating when I knew that I could find employment somewhere else if needed, e.g. I might be laid off, or I was fired.  I knew that I had a Plan B and could implement it.  Granted – I may have to make some significant changes in my lifestyle but I knew I would be alright.  Each individual has to assess this situation personally and discuss it with your life partner if necessary, but you need to know where your line is drawn.

5) Know your support system.  This is different than the resource item above as this relates to you as a leader.  No matter which path you take during that situation; someone is likely to second guess or point out your errors.  Even if history evaluates it as the most “perfect” of ways to respond, there will always be the advantage of hindsight and having more information than you had at the time.  You will have to act based on the information that you have at that point in time and based on your best analysis of the situation.  Because of this, there is and will be an emotional toll on you as a leader.  You will need to have someone to discuss your feelings, and be a sounding board.  You will need this personal support.

As we deal with events sometimes difficult and sometimes catastrophic, each of us has to make what we feel are the right decisions at the time.  Mistakes are likely to be made and hopefully there will be an opportunity to address those mistakes or that the mistakes don’t make the situation worse.  We have to assess and act based upon that assessment.  And, we have to evaluate our personal skills as well as those around us.  These five tips are not a “silver bullet” but they can help you to prepare and build up your personal emergency  response kit .