A math student takes an exam and ends up with the right answer to a particular problem. However, the professor notices that the student made a small mistake in his calculations to solve the problem. Regardless of the student’s natural aptitude toward math, will the professor be more or less forgiving of the miscalculation if the student has worked diligently all semester, taken advantage of every extra study session, and showed up regularly during the professor’s office hours to ask questions?
Not long after check-in, a hotel guest returns to the front desk of an oversold hotel because she was given a room with the wrong bed configuration. It is clearly the hotel’s mistake that the woman received a room with one bed instead of the two which are on her registration. Regardless of the outcome, will the guest be more or less forgiving of this mistake if the hotel front desk attendant acts bothered and dismissive of her request?
Human error. Technology glitches. Misunderstandings. System failures. Various circumstances outside anyone’s direct control. We all recognize, in the abstract, that mistakes will happen.
And when they do occur, we tend to respond to mistakes based on how the person or team we hold responsible reacts. If they are apologetic, if we see them trying, if they respond humbly, most people will soften their posture. However, if those we hold accountable are indifferent, even cavalier, or unsympathetic, it is not uncommon for people to respond more heatedly.
As a leader, you have a choice. Instead of responding to mistakes based on how those being held accountable might react when the mistake is disclosed, you can respond to all mistakes based on the cultural norms you want to curate and nurture within the team.
If you desire a team filled with individuals who try, are creative, act innovatively, seek progress, and want to be better, then react to all mistakes with grace, generosity, calm, decency, and encouragement. If you want a team filled with people who are anxious, non-risk-taking, who deflect responsibility, and are artless then react to mistakes negatively.
Effective leadership often demands we authentically play a role that is better than our own selfish impulses.