Making mistakes and the role of the leader

What will the impact of no risk taking be on individual’s and how we learn, on organisations and levels of competitiveness, and on whole countries and nations?  Are we really advocating that we must stay within a known comfort zone?

It’s one thing messing things up in private, where mistakes can be rectified and nobody notices.  However the news at the beginning of last week after the Oscars was very special.  It was a 'case example' of how mistakes are made and the way in which reactions can spread….

“The winner of the Oscar for the best film goes to …................  Oops” 

A certainty in life is that we will all make mistakes, big and small.  We have all been, and will be in, those situations where there is that sinking feeling in the stomach, or throughout our whole body, as we realise a mistake is emerging.

We live in a culture where mistakes are derided and blown out of proportion.  I admit to laughing a bit at the news of the Oscar prize-winning faux pas, thinking  “What a mess. How is that possible? Probably deserved it, glad that wasn’t me!’.  The mix up at the Oscars resulted in the media leading a somewhat scornful, mocking campaign aimed at those who simply gave the wrong envelope to someone at an awards ceremony.

Are we in a culture where each one of us is quick to judge others against our own perceived perfection.  Are we in a culture where we can no longer make mistakes?  If we criticise and blame others, how helpful is this?  Does it move the situation forward, help the “accused” learn from their mistake, no it simply causes that person to become down trodden, self critical and de-motivated.  The mistake at the Oscar ceremony was simple human error.  Yes, we can argue that it should not have happened, but it did!  However the overall effect is that we are further drawn into a world where the culture for accepting mistakes, or taking risks, is diminished.

Many people think that as managers and leaders we are supposed to get everything right.  We are supposed to make all right decisions, answer with the right answer and generally show our knowledge and wisdom.  Is this really so?  I think slightly differently.  Of course, in our positions as managers and leaders we should endeavour to act and behave correctly in each situation, to make those right decisions and to answer our team members with the right answer, but there are times when that is neither realistic nor possible.  Most managers and leaders do not find themselves in life and death situations when having to make decisions, and therefore making a decision becomes far more important than not making a decision, as this holds up operations, processes and team members who are waiting for direction.

Going down the path after having made that mistake, knowing that we were wrong, it takes courage to admit it, to learn from it and to move on.  Without the courage to take decisions and to take risk we are limiting ourselves and those around us.  We limit our own learning, the learning of others and the excitement of seeing what happens when we take that risk.  Most importantly we spend more time in accusation, blame and protection of what gives us the most for the least effort and keeps us in our comfort zone.




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