Making Mistakes Count

a person who has made a mistake

The mistakes that people will make are of much less importance than the mistake that management makes if it tells them exactly what to do." - William L. McKnight

You finally made the leap to trust an employee with an important task. You equipped that person to take on more responsibility and gave him or her part of your workload. You delegated! Hooray! 

And then the task was botched. Now what do you do? Do you pick up the pieces and correct the mistake yourself? Do you reprimand the employee? Make a mental note to never trust him or her again? Business ownership can be full of these tough calls. You might be drowning in work and feel there’s no one to help. Then you ask for help and get burned. Trusting others with your life’s work—training them to steward that work well—is one of the great tests of entrepreneurship.

You can’t micromanage your way to a healthy business, so how can you empower your team to achieve the outcomes you want? With a mentoring mindset and adjustments to your delegation system, you can build a team of empowered leaders who will ease the burden of ownership and help you take your business to new heights.

Allow employees to make decisions—and mistakes

The only way for an employee to learn to make good decisions is by making decisions—and sometimes making bad ones. Think about it this way: how did you learn to drive a car? Not by having someone tell you about it, not by reading about it. You learned by doing (probably in driver’s education or with a parent—someone who let you take the wheel). Until you were driving you had no idea how fast your car could accelerate, how hard you had to press the brake, or how much you had to turn the wheel to change lanes.

Now think about your business. How did you learn to deal with upset customers or mediate conflict between staff members? You learned by having those difficult conversations, and sometimes by saying and doing the wrong things. The next time you were faced with a similar situation you were more prepared. The same is true for your employees: they learn by doing, which includes deciding what to do and doing it.

Often leaders make the mistake of delegating tasks without granting decision-making power. The employee can become like an automaton, returning to you every time they are faced with another decision. Instead of freeing up time, you’re constantly on call, telling that person what to do next.

Remember that your employees have seeds of greatness within them. They are waiting for you to help them grow that greatness. They have their own areas of genius and can contribute to the business in ways you haven’t experienced before. They may even be able to do things better than you can—if you give them the opportunity to make decisions and learn from their mistakes.

The Irish dramatist and poet Oscar Wilde wrote, “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes,” meaning that messing up is just a part of development and growth. So don’t give up on your team members when they make a mistake. Equip them for success!

Taking time to delegate correctly can make all the difference. Think about these steps:

1. Pause. Schedule time for the process of delegation. The first time someone else does a task it will almost always take longer than if you were to do it yourself. Take time to think about who is best for the job, rather than choosing the person who is most available or enthusiastic.

2. Explain why. Employees are more invested when they understand why something needs to be done and how it impacts the business. What is the goal?

3. Focus on results, not the process. Allow people to do it their way, unless it impacts the results. Ask the person to be responsible for the outcome, not just the task.

4. Set parameters. Give due dates as well as expectations for how results will be reported back to you.

5. Give them space. Make sure your employees have the necessary tools and resources to complete the project. Then let them work!

6. Close the loop. Allot time for follow up. Once a project is complete, close the loop by giving feedback about what went well and what needs improvement.

Failure is enriching. It's also important to accept that you'll make mistakes - it's how you build your expertise. The trick is to learn a positive lesson from all of life's negative moments." - Alain Ducasse

When mistakes happen

Even in a healthy business, mistakes happen. Growth occurs when you adjust your mindset to see your employees’ mistakes as a mentoring opportunity.

Consider following these three steps when a mistake occurs:

First, address the problem right away. Avoiding conflict and allowing frustration to build only undermines trust. Start by praising the employee’s effort and progress. Affirm that making mistakes is a necessary part of learning. Help him or her see how to learn from the mistake.

Second, ask questions. How could this have been handled differently? Answering builds confidence and empowers the employee for future challenges.

Finally, share your feedback and allow this person to correct his or her mistake. As tempting as it may be, do not jump in! Based on the answers to the questions above, determine the best course of action together, make a plan to move forward, and set new due dates if needed. Affirm your belief in the employee’s ability to turn this “ow” into a “wow.”

Trust allows you to lighten your own load and raise up leaders. Many of the lessons I have shared here were learned through my own painful experiences! But as I have seen my employees grow in knowledge and experience, my heart is committed to this mission of developing empowered leaders. With focused attention you, too, can make mistakes count for the growth of your entire team.

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