I have known Anne Miner for a very long time and as the leader of an organization dedicated to life-long learning, creation, and early adoption of innovative solutions, I often heard her encouraging her team to try new ideas, make mistakes, fail, and try again.
She took pride in her ability to accept mistakes and to prevent team members from blaming and shaming each other. Anne repeatedly encouraged her team to be courageous, and I often heard her reminding them,
“Mistakes are part of learning, and if you are not making mistakes, you are not learning anything new. Continuous learning is a prerequisite for success at The Dunvegan Group! The only mistake not tolerated is the repeated mistake – the same situation, same person, same action, same outcome."
Repeat mistakes were rare.
One day, during a one-on-one conversation, Anne was counseling one of her team leaders. “Communication will be your biggest challenge in life!” she told him.
Without missing a beat, he replied, “Do you know what your biggest challenge is?”
Anne’s spine stiffened and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up. She had not invited this feedback and was unaccustomed to being spoken to this way.
Before she could speak, he rushed on:
“Anne, YOUR biggest challenge is that YOU don’t make any mistakes. You tell us it’s OK to make mistakes, but you don’t walk your talk.”
Without a word, Anne turned on her heel and fled to her own office, where she stared out the window for a long time, processing what she had just heard. Of course, she made plenty of mistakes, so that part of the statement was not accurate but she knew perfectly well why he would think that she was immune.
The team did not see Anne’s mistakes because she did not let them. She carefully hid her missteps, back-tracking, and course corrections; it appeared that her ideas were always sound and plans were flawless.
Before sharing an idea or initiative with her team, Anne examined it from all sides, top and bottom. Her contingency plans provided for every possible obstacle or pothole. In fact, likely, she had already stepped in the potholes in the process of perfecting her plan.
How could it be desirable or even safe for team members to blunder or miscalculate if the leader did not model that behavior?
It was not easy for Anne to show her team that she too is human and vulnerable to error. To divulge the mistakes she made, the missteps, the potholes she had skinned her shins in, and the time she had spent lying in the ditch after being run over! It was very hard for her to admit when she did not have a solution or even an idea of how to approach the problem.
One thing I can tell you about Anne Miner is that when she decides to do something, she does it! By deliberately sharing her experiences with her team, trust grew. Time-to-market decreased as everyone was willing to reveal what wasn’t working, ask for help, and accept suggestions and insights from their colleagues.
The outcome was gratifying. The entire organization got stronger! By modeling the desired behavior, letting her team see her humanity and her vulnerability, Anne, too, became a more relaxed yet powerful leader.
We all make mistakes. The magic comes from the learning! If you would like to learn more about the power of mistakes, Anne suggests Travis Wright's recent book, "Making New Mistakes."
This book is for senior leaders and those aspiring to become senior leaders. This book doesn't contain all the answers, but it does give you the tools to find them.