Nov 25 2019

Leadership Musings by JPL #2

The human condition is to make mistakes and learn from them. The ability to improve is what sets apart the winners from the mediocre.

It’s not all about talent. It’s about dependability, consistency, and being able to improve. If you work hard and you’re coachable, and you understand what you need to do, you can improve.

– Bill Belichick

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. Lord knows, I’ve made my fair share. But what do we do as Leaders when our team makes mistakes?

I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to have known some very good leaders. I’ve been able to learn from then, when it was my own mistakes that needed counseling.

One of my first jobs in the Marine Corp was as the Assistant Information Systems Management Officer of II MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force). As anyone who has worked at MEF HQ can tell you, there’s a small degree of (healthy) conflict with the MARFOR (Marine Force) HQ. In my case, it was with MARFORLANT (Marine Forces Atlantic), now called MARFORCOM.

We were experimenting at that time with Lotus Notes (as a collaboration tool) and needed higher HQ approval to order servers. In this effort, I made some pretty significant procedural errors. Not only did my errors delay the purchase, but I also embarrassed my boss, Major Marafino.

However, instead of chewing me out, yelling at me, or – most importantly – taking some kind of human resources action (e.g. giving me a a poor performance review), Major Marafino calmly sat me down. We discussed what I did wrong, and ways I could’ve done things better / correctly.

I never made those mistakes again.

Recently, I had a teammate make a mistake with one of our customers. It required me to have a difficult ‘sit down’ where I had to admit we were wrong, and as a result provide corrective remediation.

When I sat down with my teammate, I didn’t get angry. In fact, I gave my teammate a pep talk, offering a reminder of what a valuable member of the team they were, and how proud I was of the work that this teammate was responsible for (minus this one blip).

Our teams are going to make mistakes. How we handle them says a lot about our character and the kind of culture we want to build.

We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.

– Samuel Smiles