Learning from failing, not learning to fail

18 08 2017

“There are no secrets to success.  It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” ~ Colin Powell

I have a philosophy that client satisfaction comes first (i.e. treat every customer like they’re family).  IF, in the course of doing your best to let the client know that you care, are empathetic, and really want to help, you make a tactical mistake, then you and your leader should talk about it and learn from it.  Mistakes, or as the quote says, failure creates experience.  When you make enough mistakes, you will create enough experience to make wisdom.  Wisdom is not much more than learning from mistakes – hopefully not just your mistakes, and sharing your wisdom with others.  Learning from the mistakes of others is a gift that not everyone has.  It’s our job, as leaders, to understand when a mistake happens, and communicate to your team ways to avoid it.  That’s usually in the form of new training materials, e-mails, etc.

Making one honest mistake will rarely get you fired, depending on the cost of that mistake.  I often talk about the $250 “get-out-of-jail-free card” for front line staff.  The dollar amount goes up as you move up through the org chart.  It’s a lot more expensive to replace someone than the cost of the mistake they have on their card, as long as they don’t hide it, and instead learn from it, and communicate it, so that others don’t have to make the same mistake!  So, when you create a little “experience” of your own, through a mistake, please own up to it, and share the wealth of your knowledge.  Mistakes are not always a bad thing, especially if made in the face of enhancing a customer’s experience, and letting them know we care.  Happy customers mean company success!


Rubes cartoons used with permission.  www.rubescartoons.com

The sadness of “It’s always been done this way.”

18 08 2017

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

I feel like I’m settled in enough into the new job to restart my daily habit of sending out a quote, some leadership story/advice, and a comic at the end so you’ll be motivated to read the 2 short paragraphs in between.  I try to tie the quote to some lesson I’ve learned in leadership, and then the second paragraph is a bit more general, and hopefully you’ll find something useful in it at least once in a while.

During my side-by-sides and in other meetings at the new job, I have asked “Why?” when told something that doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes I get a good answer, but often I got “No idea, it’s always been done this way.”  Those words are the death of innovation and creativity.  Every time I hear them, I get a little sadder.  It’s true, though, with the nationwide push to do more with less, many people don’t know why something is done.  So I always ask for forgiveness when I meet with different team members, and try to get to 5 levels of “Why?” (asking why until the root cause is uncovered)  If, after all the digging, there’s still nobody here who knows why we do a repetitive, tedious task, I may ask one person to stop doing it, and see what happens.  If nothing bad happens, then “the way we’ve always done it” will likely be changing for the better.  More to come as I dig around in our processes.  Please enjoy the comic from my friend, Leigh Rubin.

Speaking of responsibility…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.  www.rubescartoons.com

When to step over the line.

14 12 2016

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.  The obedient must be slaves.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

If you don’t know about Thoreau, Google him someday.  He seems to me to have been way ahead of his time, in that  he was a lifelong abolitionist and environmentalist, who died in 1862, at the young age of 44.  His philosophy influenced greats like Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  I wonder how much better our world might be today had he lived longer.  He is sometimes referred to as an anarchist, but he really didn’t want to destroy institutions, he just wanted to intelligently improve them, with common sense and simplicity.  Those that know my thoughts on simplicity can see why he’d be a man that I admire.

Leaders, we all are expected to follow rules, norms, rituals, and traditions in life.  It’s easy to “go along to get along”, by following in the ruts that are in the road ahead of us.  Nobody is going to be popular, and succeed by spurning every one of these things that are “the way we’ve always done it” – disagreement on a few points is OK, but turns into Rebellion when you just stop following all of the rules.  But know your heart, and know when the opportunity arises in some situations, you can and should stand up and say “No, not this thing.  I can’t do it this way”.  If you communicate your disagreement respectfully, you shouldn’t fear taking that position, no matter how hard it may be to make that stand.”

Speaking of disobedience…


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com

Falling through the cloud floor

13 12 2016

There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.” ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

“A neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air.  A psychotic is the man who lives in it.  A psychiatrist is the man who collects the rent.” – Jerome Lawrence

This set of quotes leaves me scratching my head.  Is it aspirational to build a castle in the clouds, or are you a lunatic to even try?  I’ll leave it up to your own leadership style to decide the right answer.

Leaders who dream can, and have turned “chicken droppings” into chicken salad (I took a little creative license with the old saying to use appropriate languages).  They’ve been given a loser of a product/service/project, and succeeded where nobody ever thought it would work.  Others have been asked to do the impossible, and said “no thank you”, and didn’t take the job, as only a crazy person would try do build (or live in) a castle in the sky.  Pick and choose your castle projects wisely, leaders!

Speaking of …


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com

Don’t shatter the glass balls

12 12 2016

“We are always balancing work, life, home, etc.  It’s important to know that while juggling rubber balls, and glass balls, the former may bounce back when you miss, but the glass balls will crack if you let them fall.  So prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.” ~ Nita Ambani

I like the idea of tasks that need to be done, but if  you miss a deadline, or do them a little wrong, there’s little harm.  They can bounce back pretty well, and business can go on.  If EOM reports run a day late because someone is out sick, or if approving an invoice takes an extra day or 2 to get to, because you’re working on one of the “glass ball” tasks, that’s a smart use of your time.  Note: most of the glass-ball tasks are at home, not work.  That said, work ones will run the spectrum from super-bouncy-balls to crystal Faberge’ eggs.

The critical, fragile, breakable projects are the ones that you need to focus your time and attention on doing right, getting them done on time, and otherwise doing your best to ensure the success of the initiative.  IF these are one of the tasks that you delegated, then your focus as a leader needs to be in giving the resources, attention, and support to your trusted team member.  Because if you give them a glass-ball task, and don’t give them the rest of the support they’ll need, then someone’s going to be cleaning up a glass-mess on the floor.

Speaking of juggling…


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com

Connecting and Performing Uniquely

9 12 2016

“In general, fashion is decorative, it’s protective, it acknowledges that the world does involve conflict, and you might be attacked by assumptions, presumptions, and attitudes.” ~ Margo Jefferson

On this casual Friday, I hope you are wearing your favorite fashions, representing your sports teams, or whatever it is that, during the “business casual” week, might not represent your personality as much as Fridays allow you to.  Don’t be afraid to use your fashion to tell a story, as long as it’s within dress code.  Sure, someone might attack you with assumptions (for example, a Ravens fan might chide at a co-worker in Steelers gear).  Others who are more conservative might make presumptions on more progressive fashion choices.

The point, leaders, is that people are all unique.  Your challenge is to find whatever it is in them that motivates them and that they get energized by.  Use that connection to make their workday better.  Maybe it’s asking about their child.  Maybe it’s congratulating them on their favorite team winning over the weekend.  It could be that you see their car in the parking lot, and it’s looking sparkly after a good detail job – and you know they’re a “car person”.  Whatever it is, they very likely won’t make you have to guess.  They’ll show you pictures of their kid, wear a sports jersey proudly, or otherwise let their passions leak into their conversations.  Listen, note, and get back to it when you get a chance.  That connection will make them pull harder with you when you need that extra effort.

Speaking of decorative stuff…


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com

The unforgivable sin – guessing with certainty

6 12 2016

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” ~ Bruce Lee

“The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

All of the leaders on my team know that the one unforgivable sin they can commit is to represent something as truth to me, when they’re guessing.  If I take your “truth” up the chain of command, and get called out for being wrong on it,  we will indeed have a conversation that you will not forget.  Now, if you tell me you are 99% sure of something, or that you’re “almost certain” of something, then I will represent it that way up-hill, and it gives both you and me a way to save face when we are wrong.

There’s no shame in being wrong, but the only way to be forgiven for being wrong is to admit to it, tell what you learned from it, and to internalize the lesson so that it doesn’t happen again.

Speaking of forgiveness…


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com