The old saying is that nothing is as certain as death and taxes … but I am adding one more certainty – we are all going to make mistakes.
Being a leader means that we have to be decisive; we must make decisions and having to make decisions inevitably leads to sometimes making the wrong decisions. Getting it wrong does not always mean the end of the world! It is important that we are not prevented from making choices simply because we fear to make the wrong one. A successful person is one who has made many incorrect decisions … but who has learned from these mistakes. The true failure is someone who has failed to learn.
Recognising that we have made a mistake is the first step to learning this process, we need to understand why our choice of action was unwise, and usually our mistake will come from one of three factors:
1. We have made a misjudgement – we may not have adequately appreciated all the factors in the situation.
2. We had not adequately planned our process – and this is often the most obvious mistake. Short term solutions can create long term problems if we have not fully considered the outcome of our choices. Thinking a solution through to its ultimate consequence takes time; and there will be a number of variables which may need to be considered. But time taken in this part of the decision making process can be beneficial in the long run.
3. We have not implemented the decision effectively. Along with planning how our decision is to be implemented, the actual implementation process can be troublesome. Short cuts can be disastrous, and time constraints may mean that we are tempted to miss out vital tasks.
What is important is analysing what went wrong and profiting from the information, and reformatting the decision to be successful.
So what went wrong? Why did it all go pear shaped?
Some helpful questions may be useful – questions like~
- Was my reading of the situation correct? What assumptions had I made?
- Had I considered all the possibilities?
- Was the timing right?
- Did I supply adequate personnel and resources to implement the proposed decision?
- Did I communicate satisfactorily to all involved?
- Did I maintain a check on progress?
- What was the main cause for the failure?
I am sure that other questions will occur to you to cover your situation.
Next we need to consider what action we can now take to remove the effect of the error, and this time our planning and decisions needs to be based on the outcome of our self-questioning technique. So ~
1. Re-examine what the first decision was designed to achieve. What can you salvage from the mistake?
2. Consider all the options now available to achieve the desired outcome; and consider the probable consequences of these options, before deciding on the one most likely to succeed.
3. Work out your detailed plan to implement this decision.
4. “Fool proof” it – look for all possible outcomes which may not move you forward. How can these be implemented positively. In my army planning sessions I always nominated a ‘Sergeant Wotif’, whose job it was to pick the decision to pieces. If it survived that ordeal it was far more likely to succeed. De Bono also highlighted the effectiveness of having a Black Hat thinker around.
5. Take some care in working out who needs what to make the action successful.
6. Communicate to all concerned the details of the plan, and their part in it, and just making sure the instructions are clear is step one, step two is to check for understanding; a step so often forgotten.
7. Maintain a watching brief and check that the plan is working correctly, and modify if necessary. If it starts to get off track it can be tempting to wait and see if it will work out; but being quick enough to modify a plan can often save it from disaster.
8. And finally, when it has succeeded brilliantly, don’t forget it was a team effort and indulge in a little recognition of achievement – yes, and even include that pesky Sergeant Wotif!
The main step is to accept that an error has occurred, work out the reasons why it did, and most importantly admit that the mistake has been made. Admitting an error is not an admission of failure if it can be shown that lessons have been learned from it.
The worst possible outcome is to ignore the fact a mistake has been made, doing so re-enforces bad practice. We need to understand that mistakes are great learning opportunities and to use them to examine weakness both in decision making and implementation. Nothing is so bad that something cannot be learned from it.
Now please excuse me ~ I have a learning curve to attend to!
Michele @ Trischel