Errors Happen: So, How Do You React?

How do you react?Outright hostility.  Passive aggressiveness.  The tyrannical boss screaming at the hapless, yet well intentioned, employee.  We’ve all been there.  We’ve seen the wrath when a mistake is made.  Unfortunately, we’ve felt the wrath when we’ve been responsible for a poor decision or errant action.


When errors occur in any work environment, however, how we react as leaders often defines long-term success or perpetuating struggles for any team or organization.  It behooves us as leaders to explore our own tendencies in such situations.


Reactions to errors or failures typically take one of two paths.  Too often, rather than simply learning from the mistakes and moving forward, the bulk of energy is spent on finger pointing, on the “blame game.”  I also refer to this as the realm of modern politics, where both sides of the ideologic spectrum would rather vilify the other and shout each other down than substantively work toward resolution that move everyone collectively forward.


The alternative path is to simply acknowledge that mistakes were made (without the finger pointing), “improvise, adapt, and overcome,” as we used to say in the military, and move forward.


I’m not suggesting avoiding holding individuals accountable for their decisions or errors.  Accountability is important, to be sure.  And in a parallel process to moving forward, an assessment of the originating error needs to take place to ensure similar mistakes don’t continue happening.  But this accountability piece should not exhaust more than a modicum of the overall efforts of the organization.  It’s only a small part of the process for moving forward, not the outcome which should remain supremely critical.


Face it, folks.  There’s only so much expendable energy for any challenge, and only a limited amount of time in which to expend it.  When we choose to focus a bulk of our resources on the “blame game,” we are inadvertently choosing to de-prioritize the mission, vision, and values of our organization.  We’re choosing to focus out attention on an ultimately less productive enterprise.


Conversely, when leaders maintain a focus on the outcomes, on the productivity, on the mission of the organization, and when they opt for a coaching approach to improving individual competency, the results are incredible.  Engaged employees.  Cohesive teams.  And increased productivity and enhanced outcomes.


So, what will it be for you?

2 thoughts on “Errors Happen: So, How Do You React?

  1. After dealing with someone in my life who spent Three Gorges Dam amounts of energy on excuses and explanations in order to avoid blame, I looked at my own habits. I realized that sometimes when I tried to explain my mistakes, I could come off as defensive or whiny- two things I do not want to be. I don’t know what book I was reading at the time, but there was something about how samurai never make excuses. I thought about heroes in movies where they take the blame stoicly- it makes them appear to be even more badass and allows the plot to advance.
    Since I would like to be a badass samurai, I now (try to) offer no excuse when a mistake or shortcoming is pointed out to me. I apologize and take the blame. Of course I look for an explanation so the problem can be fixed, but the intention is different. I find facing this fear of appearing foolish to be life affirming, sort of a rush like facing any other fear and living through it.

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