Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why making mistakes can help your career development by Mark M-G

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We all make mistakes, pretty much every day in pretty much every aspect of our lives. And it's no big deal - it's the way we're made (we're 'human' and therefore imperfect) and everyone understands that. That is, they understand it unless it's affecting them personally, at which point objectivity is all too often lost.

And as you go through the different stages of your career, one of the most critical things you're going to have to learn is how to handle that loss of objectivity in others when YOU make a mistake. Handle it poorly and you'll slow your career down, handle it well and more often than not what started out as a negative against you can become a big plus point in your favour.

Here are three things to think about doing when you make a mistake of any size, big or small.

1     Own the mistake

If the fault is yours, or mostly yours, don't even think about doing anything less than saying it was you. Don't try and drag in any mitigating factors and certainly don't try and spread the blame onto other individuals even a little bit. You're the one who has to carry the can, and rightly so.

With this in mind, tell whoever needs to be told that you got it wrong, this is why you got it wrong, this is what you're going to do to recover the situation and this is how you're going to stop it happening again.

What you'll find is (a) you'll feel good about having stepped up (b) people - whether you know it or not - will admire your honesty and your not dragging in others and (c) people will see someone who is confident enough to admit mistakes and able to rectify them, both things that they can respect.

2     Provide the solution

I mentioned this point in 1 above and it's a concept the value of which - in my experience - is understood by far too few people.

In most people's experience, mistakes at work often involve a number of people, and many times you'll find yourself as one of several who've contributed to  a situation going wrong.

In these circumstances, I'd advise - once again - that you own the problem for that part of the mistake which is yours. And I'd advise, once again, that as far as possible - and there are often limits to this when senior management is thrashing around looking for scapegoats to spare their own blushes - you don't drag others in by name wherever possible.

But most importantly, in these types of 'inter-disciplinary' mistakes, be the one who is the catalyst for developing a solution. Get the right people together in the room to address the situation, or make sure that the right people are got together in the room. Be the one who calls in for some advice from a more friendly senior management mentor. Be the one who thinks of a new idea or resource that can help the solution be developed.

You don't, however, need to be the most senior person in the group developing the solution, you don't need to be the project leader and you don't need to be the one who's seen delivering the solution. It's nice if one or more of these is the case but often it won't work out that way. 

It may take a lot of patience and trust on your part but believe me, even if credit goes to where it isn't due a lot of people are going to notice your behaviours - your owning of the problem, your not throwing other people under the bus and your being the person who got people back off of the defensive and onto finding an answer. 

I've seen it time and again, and people who behave like this get noticed - with approval - at higher and higher levels as they consistently behave in this way.

3     What do you do when other people's mistakes affect you?

Even at the very early stages of your career, you'll find yourself being affected by mistakes that other people have made. How you respond to these situations can be every bit as important as how you manage your own mistakes.

In my view, there are three things to focus on.

Firstly, and this applies to whatever level you've risen to in the organization, approach the situation in the way in which you'd like to have someone approach it if it were your error. No witch-hunts etc.

Secondly, try and encourage the behaviours described in 1 and 2 above in the people you're working with. So, for example, to the extent possible and appropriate encourage ownership of the problem or encourage someone to be the catalyst to finding the solution (of be it yourself)

Thirdly, keep away from blame and retribution and turn it into 'what can we learn from this'.

If you can put the ideas in the above 3 ideas into practice, consistently over time so that they become part of who you are then I think three things will happen.

Firstly, you'll become a more effective worker, team-member and leader

Secondly, you'll find a great deal of personal satisfaction from doing things the right way.

Thirdly, over time, the growing understanding of and respect for the way you handle mistakes will become very evident to more senior management, and will do nothing but enhance your career prospects.

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