What happens when we forget a critical detail, the proposal isn’t submitted on time, the wrong meal is served to the guest, or we realize we made a big mistake on the spreadsheet that went to our boss? Fear and dread jumps to the surface of the emotions for those involved. You know that “Oh, shit” feeling. Anger bubbles up. Everyone wants to know who’s involved. The fight or flight syndrome kicks in. The urge to blame others is tantalizing. All of our best intentions to be responsible are put to the test.
Managers struggle with helping others learn from their mistakes and holding people accountable. Team members are torn between covering their tracks and wanting to do the right thing for the company and the client. The urge to minimize the damage done to our own credibility is tremendous. This is ingrained in us at a very young age. When my six year old broke a vase while bouncing a ball in the house, his first reaction was to hide it and then to blame his sister. No one wants to get in trouble. We go to great lengths to avoid that, but at what cost?
Covering our mistakes can have very costly consequences. Many times we justify not saying anything when we sense a problem because we hope it will go away. Denial is seductive. We tell ourselves, just one more week and then I will bring this problem up if it’s still a concern. Then one more week… Before we know it, a problem that could have been resolved with a small blow to the ego is now is a huge blow to our credibility and profitability.
When problems do surface, blaming, shaming, and ridiculing also have a hefty price tag. When I angrily scold my six year old, I am only ensuring he won’t bring the broken vase to me next time. We run the risk of getting the same response from our team members. Not only will people decline to bring up problems, they may not ask questions out of fear of being judged harshly.
When complex problems arise, there is always enough blame to go around. Seldom is a problem caused by a single individual. We all have an opportunity to look at our individual role, assess our responsibility, and take action. It is essential that we learn from our mistakes and equally important that we help others learn from them so they don’t experience similar problems.
All actions have consequences. The trick is to be mindful of those consequences and take responsible actions. We all want the same thing, to have successful careers; to do meaningful work. We all wish we could avoid that sinking feeling when we realize there is a serious problem, but we can’t. Sooner or later, we all have to face that “Oh, shit” moment. When you do, approach it head on and take actions you can be proud of.