Mistakes vs. Patterns
Too often we correct or admonish people when we shouldn’t, and plenty of times we let things slide when we should jump right in. Here’s a very simple principle for figuring out when to get involved.
When someone does something we consider close-but-no-cigar, not close, or downright goofy, we usually do one of two things, depending on our own tolerance for confrontation.
1) We jump right in – and either a) walk them gently through the right way, b) blow them up with quick anger, or c) something in between. or
2) We ignore it.
In most cases, the surprisingly right thing to do is #2 – ignore it.
The simple question we forgot to ask ourselves before we jumped in can be one of the most valuable leadership questions we never ask:
“Was this a mistake or a pattern?”
A mistake is something we do once and learn from, so we don’t do it again. The only way we all got to where we could recognize other people’s mistakes is because we made them first.
A pattern is a habit of doing the same lackluster, lame or outrageously stupid thing regularly. We do these things over and over because we’re not learning from them. Every leader has good patterns and bad patterns. And so does every Stakeholder who works in our company.
Know the Difference
Most managers never ask which is which, they just jump in so they can show they “add value” (which is partly why they are managers, not leaders). Great leaders will always ask the question first, “Is this a mistake or a pattern”?
And honestly, if it’s a mistake, does it really help for me to jump in, either gently or angrily, and tell you all about it?
Jump in when…
The ONLY time we should jump in is:
1) if it is blatantly obvious that the person will never be able to figure it out themselves, and wants to, or
2) It is clearly a pattern and they can’t or won’t deal with it.
Patterns of doing things less then great or just plain wrong always need our attention. But mistakes almost always need to be ignored. If you hired right, your Stakeholders want to do great work. And one of the best ways for them to get there is the same way you did, by learning from their mistakes. Beating them up or fawning over them and “coaching” them every time they do something less than great simply makes them feel like children.
Never Ignore The Patterns
Ignore the mistakes until they become patterns. But never ignore the patterns – they will sink the Stakeholder, if not your business.
Managers correct everybody for everything. Leaders take the time to figure out if they are dealing with a one-off mistake or a pattern, and then they help people with the patterns and ignore the mistakes.
Stop managing and be a Leader – ignore the mistakes and address the patterns.