Documenting my life

Tag: mistakes

The importance of taking ownership

I followed an event on zoom recently, held by an online content creator. It was essentially a webinar, so they were talking over a PowerPoint presentation, explaining different concepts and sharing information, specifically regarding one of their areas of expertise.

There was one slide which, I believe, contained one of the key points of the whole event. And this slide had a mistake. 

The first thing the content creator said was that someone was going to get fired

I was really surprised by that statement, even if it was a joke. 

I must add, they immediately said something along the lines of this being their responsibility, ultimately.

But still, that initial reaction really stuck with me and I wanted to try and unpack why.

As mentioned, this was said as a joke and they later reiterated it was ultimately their own responsibility, so this is not a personal criticism or attack, but simply a way for me to share the reasons why this stood out to me and what I have learnt in the last few years.

1. Avoid finger pointing and take ownership

Although “anonymously” (i.e. without calling someone out explicitly, of course), it rings close to finger pointing. Usually (I can’t speak for this case specifically) this means blaming someone specific and letting them take the blame, shame and expecting them to fix it. Generally the issue is more nuanced and there might have been a series of events that led to the mistake. As someone who is in charge of a presentation, you need to validate the slides you use. If you trust someone else to prepare them and don’t double check, it is still your responsibility. Ultimately it’s the presenter’s responsibility to guarantee the quality of the event, I believe. I think the idea of being a team and the importance of working together towards a goal is a key pice to keep in mind, usually.

2. Don’t use fear as a weapon

I really appreciate when a manager, leader or anyone in a position of power does not rely on guilt and shame, but rather tries to support and be compassionate. 

A great leader eliminates fear, a terrible leader weaponizes fear

Gary Vaynerchuck

Of course if someone you work with, especially if you are their manager, makes a mistake, you should let them know and work towards this not happening again. But ensure this is done in private and with compassion

3. Ask Why?

The main way to avoid repeating mistakes is to understand why sometuing happened and how to prevent it in the future. This will help get to the bottom of the issue, and it might turn out that the blame is not on the person that seems to have made the mistake initially.

There is a famous technique called Five whys, which is an iterative process that will help you investigating the root causes of an issue. I saw a post on LinkedIn which had an example similar to this:

Problem: I was late to work

  • Why 1: there was traffic
  • Why 2: I got in the car during rush hours
  • Why 3: I woke up later than usual
  • Why 4: the alarm didn’t go off
  • Why 5: I had forgotten to check and change the battery

Going back to the webinar example, maybe this presentation was done in a rush? We can dig deeper and try to understand why. Is it the person who prepared the slides’ fault? Maybe they had not discussed priorities or someone requested a last minute change which did not go through the slides. As mentioned before, the situation is usually quite nuanced and it’s important, I think, that the manager or leader encourages improvement and growth, rather than using worry and threats, even if jokingly.

What do you think? What would your reaction to someone else’s mistake be? Let me know in the comments below!

Everyone makes mistakes

We don’t talk about our mistakes with others

We usually feel embarrassed or ashamed by mistakes, so we try to keep them to ourselves. It’s normal to want to present our best selves and we avoid sharing when we did something wrong if it is not necessary, needed or helpful.

As a side note, I am not saying you should not acknowledge and own up to your mistakes, that is something you should always do. I am saying that we rarely discuss our mistakes with folks who are not impacted by them or who would benefit from knowing about it, for example, to avoid future similar mistakes.

Another caveat is that I know and appreciate when we offer this information voluntarily even if not needed when we are looking for advice or to be comforted, or if we want to be vulnerable and connect with someone.

But, generally speaking, you will hear much more about others’ successes than their mistakes and failures. This means it will bias your perception of how often others make mistakes and you might think you are the only one who is not easily going from one accomplishment to the next without stumbling somewhere along the path.

Everyone makes mistakes

The truth is everyone makes mistakes. Even people who are older and more experienced. Folks who have done a task multiple times can still get distracted and forget about one of the steps. Even after years of practice, you can not see something which you should have picked up on.

It is remarkable to witness someone who you consider “better” than you (whatever that may mean in the specific context) making a mistake because you realise that truly, everyone makes mistakes

How do you react when you make a mistake

Something which is interesting to observe when someone else makes a mistake is how they react. For example:

  • Do they apologise
  • Do they own it and fix it
  • Are they blaming others or finding excuses
  • Do they think about how to prevent this mistake (or a similar one) in the future
  • Do they sound worried/embarassed/ashamed
  • if you are not impacted but a simple “witness”, do they apologise to you?

If you think they handled it well, compare their reaction to yours

This is really useful, because we are learning from the mistakes of others!

Think what you would have done in their shoes. How would you have behaved?

See if you notice a pattern in your reaction. Do you tend to find excuses or blame others or are you good at taking responsibility? Do you apologize and move on by fixing the error, or do you keep thinking back to it?

The last two questions in particular made me reflect a lot. I noticed I will apologize even if not needed, which is something I will work on. I know that if the mistake has some impact, I will often feel embarrassed, while at least from my perception, this does not seem to be the case for others, many times.

Learning from the mistakes of others also means implementing strategies to make sure you avoid the same mistakes they did. This is extremely important and a big reason why we should talk and discuss about our mistakes openly, but it is not the core of this post.

What you should do

  • Understand that everyone makes mistakes, don’t think it’s only you
  • Expect you will make mistakes. This will help you get more comfortable and at the same time help you acknowledge the potential pitfalls
  • Think about when it’s easier for you to make mistakes and accept that. The best way to move on is to make sure you learn from your mistakes and always adjustments to minimize the risk of similar mishaps in the future
  • Be kind to yourself, understand why you did a mistake without judging yourself too harshly or making broad statements about yourself rooted in shame

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