Keeping the balls in the air, or not

This monthjuggle free to use we’ve been talking about managing tight resources and scarce demands. For leaders, it can feel a lot like a juggling act – and one that usually involves other people. Part of the challenge is to keep all the balls in the air. We’ve talked about time management, leveraging resources, dealing with stress, and other activities that can help leaders accomplish that.

Recently I dropped a ball. I reached the upper limit of my ability to multi-task and something just dropped to the ground. Made a loud crashing noise. Shattered into a lot lot of little pieces. Bang.

After partially recovering from the initial embarrassment I started thinking about mistakes as resources. Leadership literature talks about learning from mistakes and using them as growth opportunities. But that’s easier said than done. Mostly I just wanted it to go away.

The 99u blog suggested these steps to recover from a big mistake:

  1. Own the mistake, without blaming others
  2. Fix what you can, and tell your leader so they can help you deal with side effects
  3. Give a genuine apology to those affected
  4. Reflect on what happened and how you might have contributed
  5. Look for patterns and address the root cause
  6. Share what you learned

I worked my way through the steps, and this is want I learned. Mistakes can be painful, especially when it involves performing badly in front of other people. Not all of them are of the type where “that didn’t work but we learned from it so it’s all good.”

We have to do the best we can to fix it and then forgive ourselves and move on. Eventually we often do learn from it and become stronger leaders. Also, it helps to cultivate a sense of perspective. Without minimizing the inconvenience to other people, my mistake wasn’t really earth-shattering in the scheme of things. This Robert Fulghum quote says it well:

If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference. -Robert Fulghum

Dee Anne Bonebright


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