People are not human robots. They will make mistakes. A manager’s true measure is the way he treats his people when they make mistakes.
I was thrashed by my boss way back in 2001 for a minor mistake I did working on a project based on a very new technology. I literally had tears in my eyes after I was shouted upon, knowing that I had worked on the module for 18 hours at a stretch without taking a single break, learning the technology and getting job done. My mistake was minor, but the one my boss committed was major. He lost my respect. Shouting was his way of reinforcing the belief that he was in charge. I moved on!
Another interesting case happened with one of my friends Alan who was a tech lead with a multi-national company. He had accidentally replaced the production database with an incorrect version leading to overall application failure. Alan knew that he would get a beating and probably may lose his job. While he was still preparing himself mentally for the eventuality, his manager approached him. He entered with a smile on his face and said “I know this is serious, but I am also sure you would do whatever it takes to correct this. Let us put our best and get this back on track”. Alan and his team worked overnight to correct it next morning and client really appreciated this in form of an encouraging email. A few days after this incident, the manager called Alan in the canteen to share a cup of coffee. It was then that the manager inquired about the root cause of such a mistake. The manager informed Alan that such mistakes should not have happened and that he needs to be careful in future.
A couple of years back, as a QA Manager, I was reviewing a troubled project. When I interrogated the project manager, he started pointing specific mistakes of each team member. He never acknowledged that he was responsible for this and that it was a team mistake and not individual one. He exposed his team members instead of protecting them.
These diverse experiences have shaped my management style. Here’s what I learnt from these experiences.
- When someone make a mistake, keep your cool and focus on the immediate correction. Shouting/thrashing just puts people off and solution/correction takes longer. It adds to a lot of stress – for a manager as well as for the team members. Being a manager does not give you a right to be rude to your team.
- Sit next to the team member if you think that will help them. Be around when they need you.
- Treat people well when they least expect it – and see the wonders it does to bring things back on track. This is a great time also to let your people know that you trust them. Reinforce their confidence.
- Protect them and not expose them.
- Schedule a separate interaction after the mistake is resolved – to do causal analysis and plan preventive measures. This should be done with a focus on problem and not an individual. Idea is not to blame anyone or point fingers.
- Try and convert each mistake into a learning opportunity – making mistakes is productive as long as team doesn’t repeat the same mistakes again.
“To err is human, and to forgive, divine”. Do all managers/leaders acknowledge this?