Managers: Learn From Your Mistakes

Remember how Albert Einstein described insanity as “performing the same act repeatedly and expecting a different result”?

Yet, we do this all the time. I’m sure you can think of something in your own life where this applies. For me, I regularly had a specific conversation with one of my staff members. It felt like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day” because we had the same conversation repeatedly. He was an intelligent and creative guy in a management role but was not always on top of details, and it was crucial in his position. We had a pattern; I would ask questions about his projects, realize he was not aware of essential information, and request that he get up to speed. He would apologize and commit to gaining more knowledge, yet he continued the same irritating behavior of not having a solid grasp on his projects. How could I have been a better boss to this employee?

Change Tactics to Change Behavior

Make a mistake ➡ identify our error ➡ course-correct ➡ repeat ↩

Sounds so easy, right? The truth is that we all make mistakes, but we don’t all learn from them. Why is that? We have established behavior and communication patterns, and they are tough to change, particularly once they become so comfortable that they are unconscious. Making a change is uncomfortable. It requires being vigilant to prevent yourself from going down the same path you’ve always taken and an enormous effort to choose a new approach and change your behavior.

Imagine being in the same scenario above, the one where I’m not happy with my employee’s behavior. Use different tactics and get to the root of the problem. Ask a question: “Why is staying on top of the crucial details for a project challenging for you?” Maybe the employee does not realize how important it is. A great follow-up question is, “How can having this information benefit you?” Then, I encourage you to ask one last question, “How can I help you increase your knowledge about your projects and become more detail-oriented?” My goal is to get the employee to own it, understand why a change would benefit them, and confirm that they have a strategy to change their behavior and, if not, help them create one.

Einstein is right; to see a different result requires real change, and that change starts with you! Think about your challenges with your staff — how could they improve if you changed how you communicated with them, more enrolling and less autocratic?

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Kim Martin

Kim Martin

A thought leader in the areas of executive leadership, change management, and women in the C-suite.