Monthly Archive for March, 2006

So, You Made A Mistake

Of course, mistakes are important. Two facts put those you make in perspective. One, everyone who plays the game makes mistakes. Two, that you make mistakes is not nearly as important as what you do about them.

That¹s hard to remember when you are wallowing in the bed of regret, second-guessing and even being eaten alive by fear that usually follows on the heels of a mistake.

Nevertheless, it is true. The way you follow up on the errors you make has a greater impact on the future of your career than what you did or didn’t do wrong.

It is worthwhile to restate the axiom that everyone who is out there making an effort to get things done makes mistakes.

Carly Fiorini refused to delegate authority and tone down her style while she traipsed around the world like a jet-set celebrity. She made the mistake of defying her board of directors when they asked her to change her ways and she got booted out as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Kodak lost its market dominance when it failed to anticipate the success of Polaroid. It has yet to regain its position.

On the other hand, Coca-Cola made a major miscalculation when it decided the world needed a new flavor of its favorite beverage. When the market said, “You made a mistake” the company quickly turned its back on “New Coke.” Ford Motor Company pulled off a “Lulu” by producing a dud, the Edsel automobile. It lost no time in dumping the mistake when buyers turned thumbs down.

So, mistakes are bound to occur, even among the best of us.


Smart careerists learn early in the race to capitalize on mistakes by turning them into learning experiences.

When he was chairman of Quaker Oats Company, William Smithburg declared, “There isn’t one senior manager in this company who hasn’t been associated with a product that failed, or some project that failed. That includes me. It’s like learning to ski. If you’re not falling down, you¹re not learning.”

The next time you make a mistake, keep in mind the following nine steps that achievers take when they goof up.

1. Don’t panic. Follow the admonition of the television commercial, “Never Let Them See You Sweat.”

2. Stop long enough to clear your head. Then act pronto.

3. Get the facts so you can define the mistake.

4. Answer these questions. What is the worst thing that can happen? The best outcome? Will the mistake really make any difference one week, one year, five years later?

5. Report the mistake to the boss immediately. It is far better for you to tell him about your mistake than to have it come from others. Help the boss keep it in perspective. A Confucian proverb advises, “Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes.”

Let the boss and your colleagues know you regret the error. Nothing is likely to infuriate your supervisor and colleagues more than your appearing not to care when you make a mistake.

6. Accept the responsibility for your mistakes. If you don’t,

7. Feel the pain and mourn a little, but for only a little while. You will
feel better later.

8. Perform a post-mortem. Look again the facts. How can a repeat performance be avoided? What did you learn from the experience?

9. Forget the mistake; give it a decent burial, but remember the lessons learned.

Remember, the only truly unforgivable mistake is to repeat a mistake.

You’ve Been Named Boss; Now What?

Betty made a giant leap forward in her career when she landed a new position as Director of Marketing for a major division of a multi-billion dollar corporation. She would go from supervising one employee to managing 27 men and women. Her annual budget would increase dramatically. She would be expected to breathe new life into a lackluster marketing staff that had fallen behind the pace expected in the hard-driving corporation.

She came to me for career advice.

“This is the greatest opportunity and challenge of my life,” she said. “What should I do to be sure I get off on the right foot and make a success of it?”

Here’s the career counseling I gave her.

The biggest challenge will be to think in terms of managing a function – getting things done through other people – rather than doing everything yourself. Your job is to manage the assets assigned to you to see that your department’s goals are reached.

Be realistic about the reception you receive. There will be many signs of cordiality. Accept them graciously, but be aware that beneath the surface, there is another world rife with tension. You will be on trial as the organization takes your measure.

Everyone with whom you work–your boss, staff and the heads of other departments–will ask themselves the central question: What does Betty coming here mean to me?

Key members of your staff will wonder why you were selected for the job instead of them. Will you be shaking an iron fist or extending a velvet glove?

Job Tip: The Meter Starts Running On Day One

Don’t try to remake the world overnight, but keep in mind the meter starts running on day one.

Hasten to establish your competence. Reassure your boss that you will help him achieve his goals. Demonstrate to your staff that you will lead them, represent and protect them in the hierarchy as you provide them with opportunities to grow.

Various cliques will try to recruit you to their causes. Keep them at arm’s length. Show your peers that while you are a team player, you understand your responsibilities as their boss.

You will have a degree of objectivity in your view of the situation and the people on the first day that will never be possible again. The personalities, the pressures, the gains and losses you will encounter will color your thinking as time goes by.

Write a memo to yourself as to how you see the situation, the task, the pluses and downside factors. Describe how you feel about the people, especially your boss. Spell out your goals, immediate and long term.

Update this document as you go along; use your initial impressions as a benchmark.

Always be aware that your risks will be greater because the scope of your responsibilities is broader and the impact of your decisions is more crucial. Never forget that with fewer people between you and the top, you will have less protective cover.

Be prepared for some surprises along the career path. No organization ever looks the same from the inside as it does from the outside.

Always see the activities of your department in the context of the larger mission of the corporation. Communicate this view to your staff. You must have their working support if you are to succeed as a boss.

If you want to reap career rewards, ask yourself every day, “How can I do this job so well that the organization will be looking to assign more and more responsibility to me?”