handling mistakes


photo credit: TehLonz

A little over a year ago, right before the start of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, we had what’s called a “brown out”; basically a dip in the electrical supply.  It wasn’t enough to kick us to UPS power, but enough to crash some of our lighting equipment.  That’s when every production person’s favorite moment happened, people turned to glare at the booth, wondering when things would be fixed.  Meanwhile, I am in the front row wondering when is a good time to panic.

For those of you who know me, panic isn’t really my thing, so instead, I realized that we had the smartest people in the building working on the problem, so we’d be up in running as soon as possible.  In the time it takes Windows to reboot, we were off and running again.

I am continually reminded each weekend that mistakes happen.  The reality is that stuff happens; stuff that we can’t plan for.  In my opinion, there are 2 different kinds of mistakes:  ones that happen because I wasn’t prepared, and those that just happen.  I have a lot to say about being prepared (I am a former Boy Scout after all), but this post is mostly about the mistakes that just happen, that are outside of our control.

There is no way to stop these kinds of mistakes from happening, but there are ways for us to manage them and ourselves when they do.

How you respond matters.   When things go wrong, what do you do?  Do you panic?  Do you get angry?  Do you solve the problem?  Do you shut down?  Do you blame someone else?  In the heat of the moment, people are looking to you as the expert to see if you are panicking.  They will take their cues from you, the person who can hopefully fix the problem.  Definitely go after the solution with intensity, but there is a difference between intensity and terror.

Learn from the mistake.  After the fact, when things have settled down, ask yourself a few questions:  Did I miss something in the planning process?  What could I have done better to avoid this from happening?  Is there a way to change a process to prevent the same thing happening again?  Whatever it is you learn, take that information and inform your boss immediately.  If your boss is anything like mine, production is a bit of a mystery, so when something doesn’t go well, all they know is that something went wrong and that you need to do something about it.  Help them understand (in non-tech speak, please), what happened and what you are going to do about it.

How you handle yourself when mistake happens is a chance to build or destroy trust with your leadership and your team.  Whether it is what you do in the moment or how you adjust afterwards, you have an opportunity to become a better leader and a better team player as a result.