Learn From Mistakes

The best companies allow employees to experiment and make mistakes. In many organizational cultures, innovation is discouraged when leadership doesn’t encourage risk taking. Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. We often learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Managers who do not empower employees to take risks to avoid consequences of their actions will depress learning and development. Many people avoid taking risks because they don’t want to experiences consequences. Others make mistakes and don’t learn when they look to avoid consequences.

The same principle applies in our personal lives. I haven’t always made great decisions, though I accept responsibility for and learn from my mistakes. At one point, I started a business without doing my due diligence or consulting my wife, who wisely was against the idea. Four years later, we had depleted our savings and our home was in foreclosure. In the end, we were forced to give it back to the bank. This was devastating. I changed direction with my business, we found a nice rental house, and life continued. It was not the bank or the government that caused me to lose our home. It was a consequence of my choices and actions. Experiencing the consequences of our actions can be a catalyst for change.

Failing to take responsibility and ownership for our decisions can be very costly. We lose the opportunity to learn and grow. I had a friend who was losing his home a couple of years ago. In his case, he decided to stop paying his mortgage when the value of his home fell below what he owed. Many people did this expecting a bailout from the government. When he was complaining about why the president wasn’t doing enough to help him, I interrupted him and told him his blaming was preventing him from finding another solution. He was being a victim. Experiencing the consequences of our actions is incentive to quickly learn and change course. I know first-hand how painful it is to lose a home. But blaming others for our predicaments only hurts us….we give away our power to change. If we believe our problems are generated externally, we may think we have no choice. If we think nothing we do will matter, we may choose to do nothing. When we take personal responsibility, we change our behavior and our outcomes, creating opportunities to learn, grow, and change. It all starts with choosing our response, and learning from the consequences of our choices.

The author Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC. Additional articles which may interest you: How To Create Success From Failure; Leadership Is About Impact Not IntentionHow To Prepare Your Next Generation Of LeadersIncrease Your Effectiveness As A Leader With Perception Science;  How To Get Your People To Change TodayCure For The CEO DiseaseThe Importance of Values

How To Solve More Problems As A Leader

7 Steps For A More Productive Team

One of the problems I see with leaders is they solve too many problems. Wait…you just said this article is about solving MORE problems, not that I am solving too many! That is right. Sometimes we get so solution oriented, and so bottom-line obsessed, we actually make more work for ourselves. You may be sabotaging your ability to be productive when your team members come to rely on your genius and acumen instead of developing their own. They pass the ball to you to make the game winning shot because they have confidence in you and also, because they lack confidence in themselves.

Many managers I know are overwhelmed with day-to-day responsibilities. They spend much of their time fighting fires or going from one crisis to the next. When they do spend the time to plan, they rarely implement those plans; instead they go hastily back to their frenetic problem solving ways. Worse, they spend very little time developing the capacity of their teams. They may abdicate employee development to HR or a training course. It is time to get off the hamster wheel of crisis management! To become more productive and efficient, start investing time to develop the skills and abilities of your team members.

One of the most important tasks of leadership is to elevate the leadership capacity and problem solving skills of our teams. Managers may intellectually understand this is true, however, the following may be some reasons they don’t change:

  1. Managers are addicted to being needed:
    There is something satisfying about being the “go to person”. Some managers believe that making themselves indispensable may provide job security.
  2. Managers don’t know better:
    They have been taught their whole life to take action. They have been told what to do by parents, teachers, coaches, professors, military leaders, past bosses and more. They may have learned habits of tell and do. Because telling or dictating is a poor way to get people to act, employees of today may fall short of the “dictator’s” expectations. This reinforces the manager’s belief that his people are incapable and perpetuates a vicious cycle.
  3. Lack of trust:
    When manager’s lack trust in the ability of direct reports to solve problems or take on greater responsibility, they actually stunt their employee’s growth. This leads to only assigning tasks they are “certain” they can handle. I believe people can accomplish much more than we give them credit for. By not challenging our people, we ensure their dependence on us and keep ourselves on the hamster week. I discuss the importance of giving your people stretch assignments in How To Prepare Your Next Generation of Leaders. Giving your team members opportunities to grow means getting out of your comfort zone and their comfort zone. Let me give you an example: My son’s both play volleyball for their high school. One plays varsity and one Jr. varsity. The Jr. Varsity coach has begun a rotation only relying on a few starters. In practice, he only focuses on starters. In tough games, only this group plays and they get tired after a while and make mistakes. However, since the coach does not have confidence in the ability of the other players, he only plays the same few. While this groups ability increases, the ability of the rest of the team begins to atrophy’. The coach’s dependence on the group of starters actually increases his dependence on them. At first this is great for the starters. But they soon feel tremendous pressure to perform and with very little respite, their performance begins to diminish.
  4. Control obsession:
    Managers may be controlling in how they want things done. When team members are given authority to solve problems on their own, they may take a different approach than the manager.
  5. Confused good boss syndrome:
    Some manager’s may actually think they are being kind by bailing their team members out. They may shoulder more work thinking they are protecting their team.
  6. Managers are busy:
    They think they don’t have the time to invest in their people. They hope they figure it out on their own. After all, isn’t that what you did? What worked for you and your generation, will probably not work today. There are to many options for our employees. If they do not get what they need and want from you, they can easily get it somewhere else. The revolving door of employees adds to the lack of time managers have to train and develop. Hiring new employees takes a lot of time. Not to mention the extra work required filling the vacancies of employees who quit or were terminated.
  7. Talent hoarding:
    According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, one reason some managers don’t elevate, develop and encourage some of their top performers is to keep them on the team. It is called talent hoarding. This natural tendency to hold on to top performers will back fire and hurt the business. If these employees are not given an opportunity to grow and develop with you, they will go somewhere else. You will be forced to replace them.

Whatever the reason you are not developing your team, stop it. You will only disengage your employees. People usually perform to the level of expectation. If your expectations are low, they are probably being met, though not to your satisfaction. You then will probably shoulder more responsibility until you become at least frustrated, or worse, exhausted and burned out. And finally you may take drastic measures like quit, or fire the people you feel are making your life miserable.

I am convinced the employees we hire do not take a job hoping they will be underutilized and hoping they will underperform. They join us with hopes and expectations of learning and growing and contributing. Here are some ways to help you enable your team members to be productive:

  1. Believe they can do more:
    Always believe in the potential of your employees. You just have to figure out how to enable their potential. That comes from taking personal responsibility for their development and not blaming them for your failure to support and train them.
  2. Refuse to solve every problem your employees encounter:
    When they come to you asking for help, ask them to come up with at least two ideas for how they would handle it. You may be surprised with the solutions they find. If the solutions are not good, give encouraging feedback. This is how they learn. Repeat the process often.
  3. Brainstorm together:
    This is an effective process when stakes are high and margin for error is small. Take opportunities to work on problems together. Make sure you give your employees space in these sessions to come up with ideas. Discuss the merits of ideas and come to a decision together.
  4. Praise your team members for their efforts:
    Let them know when they do well. Make sure they are not just hearing from you when they make a mistake. When you encourage them for initiative and perseverance, you will get more of that behavior.
  5. Be willing to let your people fail:
    People often learn the most from failure. If you trust your people are doing their very best, you know they do not purposely want to create problems.
  6. Take a close look at how you may be contributing to the problem:
    The culture of your team enables the results you are achieving. The culture of your team is a reflection of your leadership. Be willing to work on yourself. Learn how you may be getting in your own way as a leader. Learn how to ask better questions that engage and encourage versus being a teller or dictator. Learn how to create an environment of trust where people work to solve problems, go the extra mile and help each other out.
  7. Make time to teach them:
    In addition to your coaching and instruction, give them opportunities to develop their skills and talents through in house and external training programs.

The investment of time you make in developing your team will come back to you. You will see your direct reports shouldering more and more of the responsibility you now carry. As they do this, your trust in them will increase. As you give them more responsibility, their capabilities will grow. The only way for you to grow is to help others grow. As that happens, the ability of the team to get stuff done increases. What if one of the people you develop does so well, they get promoted off the team? Be happy for them. Change is part of life. Train their replacement and become known for the leader who elevates and develops other leaders.

The author Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC. Additional articles which may interest you: Leadership Is About Impact Not Intention; How To Prepare Your Next Generation Of Leaders; Increase Your Effectiveness As A Leaders With Perception Science; How To Create Success From Failure; How To Get Your People To Change Today; Cure For The CEO Disease

 

How To Create Success From Failure

Fail Successfully

As a child, you were constantly failing. You formed words in your mouth, which instead came out as sounds. Those failed words were music to your parent’s ears. You fell hundreds of times as you attempted to walk. You crashed your bike as you began to ride. You made cacophony instead of melody as you learned to play the piano. From all of these failed experiences, you were learning. If you quit because of these failures, you would have remained silent, never learned to ride a bike or play the piano.

What were the conditions that allowed you to find success from these failures to learn, grow and develop? Your parents or guardians most likely encouraged you when you were learning to walk, especially when you fell. They kept talking to you when you were making sounds instead of words. They motivated you to get back on your bike after you skinned your knee. They applauded your staccato rendition of your favorite song at your first piano recital.

As we get older, many of us have learned to do what it takes to get rewards for good behavior and avoid punishment from mistakes. Consequently, many gain a sense of satisfaction when they are praised, and shame for reprimands. Much of an individuals self worth may come from the acceptance and reward they receive. As children grow through adolescence they become less and less willing to take risks, which might lead to embarrassing attention. In our middle and high school classrooms, fewer students raise their hands, for fear of being wrong.

I remember being in Mrs. Martin’s 12th grade honors English class 34 years ago. We would read books like the Heart of DarknessWalden and other fun reads. Mrs. Martin would ask questions and rarely got answers. I was a fairly smart kid, and the son of an English teacher. I often knew the answers to her questions. However, I would not raise my hand. Instead, I would answer under my breath, just loud enough for some kids around me to hear. This happened often enough that the kids around me started to laugh when Mrs. Martin gave the same answer I had just muttered. Eventually she asked why the kids were laughing and they said, “Spencer always has the answer.” So now she deliberately called on me. In those moments, however, I never seemed to have the answer.

I struggled to get a good grade from Mrs. Martin. When I complained to my mother, also an English teacher, she told me I just needed to work harder. I had a paper due on Thoreau’s Walden. I told my mom it was not worth it to try, I would just get a bad score. My wonderful mother decided to teach me a lesson that a good grade was possible and wrote my paper. (The only time she had ever done this.) She, and I, received a C+. She was so furious; she told me she was going to talk to the teacher. Instead of making a kerfuffle, I wanted to avoid embarrassment and further humiliation so I dropped the class. I had what Psychologist Carol Dweck calls, a fixed mindset. If I had what she also calls, a growth mindset, I may have been more willing to learn from my mistakes. Instead, I avoided the learning opportunities afforded me in her class and just rested on the fact that I didn’t need another English credit to graduate. I settled for avoiding discomfort and protecting my ego.

I’m sure I am not the only one that has had a fixed mindset at some point. As we mature, many of us participate less and less in successful failure. Many avoid situations, which may lead to failure in their lives and in their businesses. In my business, I see many people who are unwilling to change habits and patterns. They are afraid of getting feedback that does not reinforce a positive self-image. Feedback can be a valuable tool to help us improve. Instead, we label it as unjustified criticism to protect our ego and need to be right.

Some of us have behavioral characteristics that are more disposed to avoid failure. Some people have a bias for perfectionism. This may cause them to delay action because they fear making mistakes. Other people may be very demanding. They focus on task, and minimize relationships. These demanding and critical leaders shut down innovation and, may take few risks themselves to avoid their own medicine. Others dislike confrontation, or difficult situations, so they avoid them. Still others are so focused on being right, they may not be willing to risk being wrong in order to learn. Click here to request our powerful assessment to identify your behavioral characteristics. When we send you our link, the process only takes 5-10 minutes.

In business, we have management processes whose entire existence is to eliminate or mitigate risk. Project Managers manage risks of various types such as technical risks, monetary risks, and scheduling-based risks. The International Organization for Standardization, created standards relating to risk management known as ISO 31000. These standards create systems and processes designed to reduce risks. However, they may also create a bias against taking risks. This risk aversion can permeate organizational cultures and stifle growth.

I do not suggest recklessly taking risks or accepting failure. Instead I suggest developing a culture of innovation and growth. The marketplace is changing so often and so rapidly, it is impossible to succeed with the status quo. According to a recent HBR article, “Increase Your Return on Failure,” one of the biggest reasons companies fail to grow is a fear of failure. The authors, Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Hass, cite a Boston Consulting Group survey, which identifies 31% of respondents identified a risk-averse culture as a key obstacle to innovation.

The solution? Foster a culture where “Fail Fast,” “Fail Often,” and “Fail Forward” is embraced.

  1. Fail Fast:

    Use failure as a call to action; to improve, to learn. Be willing to avoid complacency and take action. Avoid perfectionism and analysis paralysis. Set parameters for experimentation and innovation. Edison and his team learned 10,000 ways a light bulb doesn’t work. Their process of experimentation led to success.

  2. Fail Often:

    Focus on what you can control. Lon Kruger, Head basketball coach at Oklahoma is a great teacher. He wants to win, like most of the people on his staff and his team. He teaches the athletes to pay less attention to the final score and more attention to their individual effort. Did you dive for every loose ball? Did you do what it takes to win the rebound battle? Did you do your best? Coach Kruger stresses that when we continually do our best, the scoreboard will eventually reflect our effort.

    Avoid complacency. The environment is constantly changing. What worked last year, last month, last week, yesterday, may not work today. Continually look for ways to improve and innovate. That requires being willing to accept some risk and failure. Click here to watch a short video of a Japanese entrepreneur who embraces fail often.

  3. Fail Forward:

    Change your approach. Avoid the victim mentality. When things don’t work out the way you planned, change your approach and move past it.

    Learn to appreciate feedback. If you have a fixed mindset, this can be very difficult. I have learned to ask myself, “is there truth to what they are saying, or wisdom in their perspective?” I needed to learn that their perspective was valid to them. When I dismissed feedback as inaccurate, I would do nothing new, or different, and would stay stuck in my behavior.

    Learn from every failure. It is not easy to take time and look in the mirror about what went wrong. Sports teams have made a science of this. They study video images to see what went wrong so they can identify what to do differently. I regularly watch and listen to myself giving presentations. It is painful, to be sure, because I see all my weaknesses exposed. But, this is a great opportunity to improve my craft.

    We are currently experimenting with google adwords to help grow our business. We have set aside a small budget to experiment with. We want to learn what works and what doesn’t. We have created multiple ads to track responses. The ones that perform poorly are replaced. The ones that perform well are given more investment. We are learning from failure and success. Both are valuable. After a month of this process, we have a strategy we are confident will work. We will then commit a larger budget to a winning strategy.

    Learn from your mistakes and mistakes of others. Gather new information and data continuously. Then share what you learn. This will let people know you are serious about learning. By avoiding talking about mistakes, you send a message that failure is not acceptable. Encourage others to share their mistakes and lessons learned.

To quote Pixar president, Ed Catmull, “Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil, they aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new and should be seen as valuable.” Your focused and deliberate efforts to create a culture that encourages successful failure will pay dividends.

The author Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC. For additional topics read: Sick And Tired of Being Sick And TiredHow To Get Your People To Change TodayThe Power of AccountabilityHow To Defeat The ‘Fog of War’ In Business