Good leaders help their employees fix their mistakes. But the best leaders are those who turn a mistake into a learning opportunity.
Mistakes will happen. It’s what you do after one happens that really matters. Show your employees you accept mistakes from time to time and they’re more likely to take bigger risks – ones that could very likely pay off for them and for you.
But it’s a delicate balance.
You don’t want to hold employees back, yet you don’t want to kill productivity. So what’s the trick?
CEO Amy Rees Anderson knows it.
Before branching off and becoming a managing partner of REES Capital, Anderson was founder and CEO of MediConnect Global, a medical record retrieval and digitization firm with over 1,000 employees. Though she sold MediConnect for around $337 million in 2012, she learned a thing or two during her nine years there.
Basically, she wanted her employees to make mistakes so they could learn, grow and further their career – but there needed to be boundaries. So she came up with a rule: An isolated mistake was acceptable, as long as all the right work still went into it.
“If you made any mistake for the first time, the entire team would have your back in fixing that mistake if anything went wrong,” Anderson says. “If you ever repeated the mistake a second time, then you were 100% on your own to face the consequences.”
Here’s her step-by-step guide to making the most out of mistakes:
Spell it out
It’s simple communication: Accusatory statements cause defensive responses. A piece of this involves the employee taking accountability. Can he own the mistake without making any excuses?
Avoid saying “you” (i.e.: You messed up this report three times this month) and stick with general statements: The report was late three times this month. What happened?
It paves the way for open communication and gets the person talking without feeling like he needs to defend himself.
After a mistake was made, Anderson met with the employee and discussed what went wrong. The key here is, the person can’t get defensive. Part of this involves the employee taking accountability. Can he own the mistake without making any excuses?
Do what you can
Not all mistakes can be fixed, but as a leader, you know most mistakes can be halted so they don’t snowball out of control.
Odds are, he’s just doing damage control, but he may have the chance to redeem himself. If that happens, make sure you offer praise and encouragement for handling a crisis. It’ll resurrect the employee’s confidence and motivation.
After talking things out, both parties have a better feeling of what happened and why – so Anderson asks the employee to do whatever he can to make things right.
Even if the person can only contain the damage, Anderson says, it’ll at least prevent the current problem from getting worse.
Prevent it from happening
Once the storm is over, look back at what happened. Are there any weak spots in your processes? Was there something a more structured program could have fixed? Dive in deep to see if there’s anything that can be done to help ward off the problem.
Anderson works with the person to come up with a process to prevent the mistake from popping up in the future. Strumming up safeguards and various other procedures cuts back on the likelihood of the mistake happening again.
Plus, Anderson says, it’s a great chance for people to learn – including you.
Turn the tables
Here’s a loaded question: How do you own up to your mistakes? Employees learn from those in authority positions.
When you admit to a flub, you’re building trust with your employees. Not only does it show you’re human like the rest of us, but it makes you even more relatable. People think, Oh, she’s just like us. She makes mistakes sometimes, too.
It’ll also help you gain respect. We live in a world where leaders are quick to make an excuse, place the blame on someone else or lie their way out of a situation. It’s a relief when someone speaks up and says, You’re right. That was my fault. I apologize.