In the book "The World According to Mr. Rogers," children's television star Fred Rogers passed along the following story about the value of making mistakes.
An apprentice carpenter applied for a position with a master carpenter. During the interview process, the master became very aware of the young worker's pride -- everything he'd done was perfect. Finally, the master carpenter asked the apprentice if he had ever made a mistake, to which the young man proudly said no. The confident young man thought the job was his.
However, to his surprise, the master carpenter said he would not be hiring the skillful apprentice. The reason: That when he did make a mistake, he would have no idea how to fix it.
I completely agree with that hiring decision. It's OK to make mistakes, but you have to learn from them. If you just keep making the same mistakes, one of two things is happening: You are not paying attention, or you just don't care.
So often, the person who never makes a mistake takes orders from the person who does. The risk-takers tend to become the entrepreneurs and managers. And some of the mistakes they have made are costly and embarrassing. But the lessons they learned taught them how to "fix it," as Mr. Rogers would say.
Thomas Watson Sr., the founder of IBM, said of mistakes: "You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it."
The person who makes a mistake and then makes an excuse for it is actually making two mistakes. People respect those who take responsibility for their own errors. Regardless, you will be better off admitting a gaffe than spending considerably more energy trying to avoid the subject. If you seize the opportunity to learn what went wrong, you'll be a lot less likely to make the same mistake again.
To paraphrase the words of our favorite baseball philosopher Yogi Berra, "Don't make the wrong mistakes."
Embrace mistakes as opportunities to grow. In today's business climate, people are making split-second decisions. That makes for a high likelihood of mistakes. But keep in mind that if you're not making mistakes, you're not taking any risks. And that could mean you're not making progress.
"Mistakes are the downside of risk-taking. And it seems as if we've become very unwilling to tolerate mistakes," said my friend William R. Brody, former president of Johns Hopkins University. "Being risk-averse is hurting our global competitiveness and stagnating our incomes."
Managers have a specific role in dealing with staff mistakes. You want your staff to make as few mistakes as possible. But workers do need to know when they make mistakes so that they can learn and grow in the workplace.
As a manager, you need to think about the problem and assess how important the mistake is. If the mistake was made out of lack of awareness, let the person know what has happened, and explore whether he or she knows how to prevent it in the future. If the mistake was made out of carelessness, then talk to your employee. Find out if something is distracting him or her. If the employee is feeling overworked, see if you can provide some help.
Remember, when an employee fails, you share the blame, just as you share the credit for your workers' successes. Make sure that you don't abdicate your responsibility. Verify that you have communicated clearly so that employees know what you expect. And most importantly, be available to help -- because if you fail your employees, you are making the worst mistake.
Mackay's Moral: If you don't learn from your mistakes, there's no sense making them.