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Learning From Mistakes

Friday, July 26, 2013 - 08:07

By Leon Gettler

Every manager makes mistakes. Part of this is because becoming a manager requires a whole new set of skills. You go from being a good technician and great with operations to someone who has to look after people. That’s a whole new skill set so inevitably, mistakes will happen. Indeed, knowing that you’ve made mistakes is just nature’s way of showing that you’re learning. The key, of course, is to acknowledge the mistake and learn not to do it again.

The Wall Street Journal sets out some of the most common mistakes that managers make. The first is when the new managers assume that they wield a fair bit of authority. Think again. Everyone – the subordinates, bosses, peers, people on the outside of the organisation – wants to have a slice of you. The next is assuming authority flows from the manager’s position. Wrong again. Managers need to show their character, competence and the ability to get things done before their subordinates will follow them. Another mistake is assuming managers control their direct reports. As a result, they often seek absolute compliance to orders from their subordinates, particularly in their early days. But it doesn’t work that way. Compliance is not the same as commitment and if there’s no commitment, they can’t delegate. Managers discover what they have to do instead is nurture a strong sense of common commitment to shared goals – rather than one of blind allegiance to the managers’ dictates. Managers also make the mistake focusing on building good individual relationships. What they have to concentrate on instead is creating a good team. And finally, they can make the big mistake of assuming their job is to make sure everything is running smoothly when in fact what they really have to do is recommend and initiate changes that will enhance their groups’ performance. That can often mean challenging organizational processes or structures that exist above and beyond their area of formal authority.

Other common management mistakes would include lack of feedback, not making time for the team, being too hand-off or too hands-on, being too friendly, failing to define goals, failing to understand what motivates the team and not being a role model.

Personnel Today looks at research from training management consultants MaST International and Peter Honey Publications suggesting there has to be an action plan around people making mistakes. The consultants say managers need to explore what happened, not judge and find fault. They should remain calm instead of being emotional and find out exactly what happened rather than reacting to what they think happened. They have to focus more on the processes that allowed the mistake to occur, not on the person who got it wrong. In other words, they have to look at causes rather than effects. They have to work out lessons learned, assume the mistake-maker wants to learn. And most importantly, they should treat mistakes as inevitable and as learning opportunities instead of things to dread or avoid.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo says managers can only learn from their own mistakes if they fess up and acknowledge the error. Remember, even if it was a group mistake, they should acknowledge their role. They should also demonstrate that they have changed as a result of the mistake and then get back out there. It’s also a time when they should be relying on their support network.