There’s Power in Mistakes

You can tell a lot about a leader – and a company’s culture – by how they respond to mistakes - statuemistakes. I appreciate the title of Dan McCarthy’s blog post, “Say Thank-you to Mistakes.”

My experience with mistakes is much like McCarthy says. Mistakes “can often be the by-products of and catalysts for innovation, empowerment, delegation, development, change, and continuous improvement.”

Innovation. Empowerment. Delegation. Development. Change. Continuous Improvement…most business owners and leaders WANT these in our companies!

We’ve seen business owners, leaders and even managers who strive to keep such tight control that they don’t allow for “mistakes” (learning, growth and solution opportunities!). They think they’re doing right, but more often than not, they’re impeding growth and crippling the business (progress, people, culture, ability to adapt, etc.). If you hold the business reins too tightly, you’ll keep control – but as with horses, the steps will be smaller and growth will be slower (or even stop).

Conversely, I encourage, celebrate and congratulate leaders who reduce the layers of restrictive rules (formal and informal) and increase the creative freedom they offer their employees. Such leaders tend to follow three guides:

  1. Determinedly HireA Players” – along the lines of the Netflix model of building a team of “ever more high performance people.”
  2. Ensure their A Players (and other team members) are aligned with a). the market, b). each other, and c). with the company’s vision, purpose (mission), values, and strategic direction.
  3. Enable – and nurture – their A Players to fulfill their roles and accountabilities – without tightly controlling every step nor decisions along the way. Guideposts are good – measures and indicators of success are good – regular communication is good. Not so good: requiring permission for actions or decisions that are reversible and not “harmful” to the business or its customers.

When A Players make mistakes, there’s huge opportunity for resulting benefits! McCarthy’s three open-ended questions to ask following each “mistake or unintended outcome” start the benefits in motion:

  1. What happened?
  2. What have you done / will you do to fix it?
  3. What did you learn?

Notice, what’s not beneficial are the questions or statements that follow most mistakes…the following are generally counter-productive: “How could you do that?” “You’ve ruined this for us!” “Whose fault is it?”— or even,  “I’ll fix it for you.”

A Players are continuous learners. They’ll respond to those three questions and turn them into innovation, empowerment, delegation, development, change, continuous improvement, solutions and growth!

The added bonus is that McCarthy’s three questions can help create more A Players! Getting B Players to clearly define the facts, be accountable and responsible, think for themselves, and turn the mistake into learning are key ingredients for developing them into A Players.

Embrace mistakes and the “mistake” makers: the results can be powerful.


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About Paul Kirpes, TPG Companies

For over 35 years, Paul J. Kirpes, Founder and President of TPG Companies, has transformed businesses, corporations, communities, and ventures in the private and public sectors throughout the U.S. as well as internationally. Paul empowers companies, their owners, and leaders to Transform, Perform and Grow!
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