Growing up as an extremely curious, somewhat precocious, strong-willed child, I was prone to cross lines or boundaries my parents set for me. Various types of punishment would be administered in their efforts to keep me on the straight and narrow, to keep me abiding by the rules. The one message from them I will always remember is: “When you do something wrong, you come and tell us before someone else does, and know someone else always will. When you tell us first, you make it easier on yourself. When you tell us first, your punishment will be far less severe”. They were simply saying, “When you mess up, fess up”.
As an adult (still curious, strong willed, and prone to push the boundaries), the teachings of my parents are put to good use. This was particularly true during my many years working in corporate settings. The rule of “NEVER SURPRISE THE BOSS” seemed a lot like my parents saying, “you better tell us first”.
These places where we work and bosses we work for can very often make us feel we have to be perfect. Mistakes, sometimes all mistakes, are portrayed as the handiwork of the ill-prepared or incompetent, and perfection is the only acceptable outcome. Do not believe it! The organization knows and your boss knows there will be mistakes and less than perfect outcomes. What you have to know is there are different kinds of mistakes with different consequences. IT IS YOUR JOB TO BE THE FIRST TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE MISTAKE AND THEREBY INFLUENCE THE CONSEQUENCES.
Know there are three kinds of mistakes: Stupid, Honest, and Venture. THE CONSEQUENCE OF STUPID MISTAKES IS GENERALLY PUNISHMENT, FREQUENTLY SEVERE – even when you admit it first. Why? Because with stupid mistakes, the right approach is widely accepted, acknowledged, and signs are posted everywhere. Stupid mistakes are the result of willful disregard for widely accepted rules and consequences. Do not expect leniency from the boss.
WITH HONEST MISTAKES YOU CAN EXPECT SOME DEGREE OF TOLERANCE FROM THE BOSS. Honest mistakes occur when the right course of action is unclear, the rules are vague, there are gray areas and your outcome is less than positive. In such cases, it is crucial to be the first to explain what happened AND what you learned from the experience.
Then there is the Venture Mistake. Venture mistakes are grounded in positive intentions to improve a process or develop a product or program. Venture mistakes are all about doing something for the good of the organization but the outcome does not perfectly achieve the goal. Even so, with venture mistakes, the foundation is laid and more is learned so that the next attempts are better positioned for success. Your boss should be included at the onset of the venture and frequently briefed along the way. VENTURE MISTAKES ARE OFTEN REWARDED.
- Perfection is an illusion.
- Understand there are different mistakes with different consequences.
- Always own the mistakes you make.