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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Once a leader believes she has managed her mistake adequately, she is eager to move on and put the whole mess behind her. The chastened leader longs to stop beating this dead horse, check the box and focus on more important (and less aggravating) tasks.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Not so fast. There is still some important work to be done. While your feelings are still raw and your memories clear, you will want to summarize the event in your leadership journal. This will help to jog your memory when a similar thing happens in the future. You want to dwell on your painful feelings long enough to encode some permanent memories. And you need to hear from dispassionate colleagues about whether you could have improved on what you did.

How can you do it?

Imagine you had the chance for a do-ever. Here’s the deal. As a leader, you almost always have that option. All you must do is ask for a do-over. When folks realize their leaders are trying hard to do the right thing, most of them are willing to give their leaders a chance. Those who are unwilling to cut their leaders the slack they need to succeed don’t matter anyway.

Recognize your unrealistic expectations for yourself. Only in the movies, do the actors get the communication just right, and they have a script, a director and the opportunity to rehearse.

Ask your team how they would have preferred that you respond. Thank them for sharing their perspectives and promise to take their recommendations into consideration in the future. Then do.

How have you solicited feedback about how you managed your mistakes?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Invite Feedback about Your Response appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

When a leader makes a mistake, her brain responds by creating intense feelings of embarrassment. Her brain quickly follows by creating defensive excuses, rationalizations and minimizations. During this maelstrom of insistent urges, the leader is inclined to react impulsively and badly.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Because of your understandable emotional arousal, you will be at risk for following your mistake with an even more serious mistake. If you blame others or make excuses for your behavior, your credibility as a leader will take a serious hit. If, instead, you take some deep breaths, calm yourself and respond as an exceptional leader would, you will grow in others’ esteem despite your mistake. Ultimately, there are few things more satisfying than turning a leadership loss into a win.

How can you do it?

Calm yourself. This is not easy, but it can be done. Begin by recognizing that you must. Then remind yourself that you have not done something illegal, immoral or unethical (hopefully). You have just made a mistake. Choosing to feel like a criminal after a simple mistake is obviously an overreaction.

Take (a short) time to consider your options. In most such circumstances, you will do no further damage if you do the right thing within 24 hours. And the right thing is usually obvious. Admit you made a mistake, take full responsibility for it, apologize and promise to learn from it.

Go with the best options. One helpful way to figure out how you might best respond is to ask yourself what you want your leader to do in the same circumstance. Isn’t it interesting that we almost never consider this option when we are trying to decide what to do?

How have you managed to respond thoughtfully instead of impulsively to your mistakes?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Respond Thoughtfully and Deliberately appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Our brains are belief engines, faithfully manufacturing ideas designed to make us feel comfortable and special. To this end, leaders’ brains often create the delusions that good leaders don’t make mistakes, especially not this brain’s owner. If the duped leader does make a mistake, his brain quickly reassures him that such slips are rare, insignificant and usually someone else’s fault. Armed with such reassuring nonsense, why would a leader waste time and energy on a mistake-response plan?

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If you have ever chosen to face reality for 10 seconds or more, you realize that you make many mistakes every day. The truth is, making mistakes is what you do best. Thankfully, most of your mistakes are relatively insignificant, but they are mistakes nonetheless. Since you have (and will) make mistakes every day, it is prudent to design and deploy a process for managing them appropriately instead of flying by the seat of your pants when you fail.

How can you do it?

Decide you need one. Most leaders want to be above average. Here is a simple way to stand out. Most leaders don’t have a mistake-response plan. When you create one and keep it within easy reach on your smart phone, you will be among those elite leaders who do.

Conduct some research. Ask your colleagues about theirs. Employ your favorite search engine. Read the SOMC Leadership Blog. Read a book or two about how the best leaders manage their mistakes. Synthesize what you learn into a draft process.

Solicit feedback on your draft plan. Send your draft process to several of your experienced colleagues who manage their mistakes well. Invite their suggestions and recommendations. Modify your plan appropriately and prepare to implement it when you make your next mistake. You won’t have to wait long.

How have you used your mistake-response plan to manage your mistakes appropriately?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Create a Mistake-Response Plan appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

The average leader wants to forget her mistakes as quickly as possible. She is not eager to discuss them with anyone. She views her mistakes as momentary lapses, uncharacteristic blemishes on her stellar record of leadership perfection, insignificant outliers in the evidence that she is exceptional. Why would she want to challenge her comforting delusions by seeking the counsel of lesser mortals?

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Exceptional leaders recognize that they are imperfect and that making mistakes is what they do best. These leaders don’t delude themselves or others. Instead, they leverage their mistakes and the accompanying discomfort to examine their underlying beliefs, the feelings those beliefs provoke and the impulsive behaviors disruptive feelings inspire. And they realize that, because of their emotional blinders, their colleagues can help them identify options more effectively than they would think of by themselves.

How can you do it?

Present a leadership case study. Find a group of your colleagues who are passionate about leadership and summarize what happened, what you felt, what beliefs inclined you to feel that way and what you did.

Invite others’ perspectives. Ask your colleagues to share their perspectives about what you might have believed, done and felt instead. Everyone will learn something from this simple but powerful leadership learning tool.

Use others’ perspectives to create a best-case leadership scenario. It’s easy to figure out how you might have behaved better. Examining your feelings and the unrecognized beliefs that triggered them is much harder, but the payoff in long-term behavioral change is worth the effort.

How have you invited others to share their perspectives on your leadership failures?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Invite Input About How to Respond ( appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Human beings spend their lives trying to avoid discomfort. It’s the way our brains are programmed. Leaders get up every day with the same instinct to do what they feel like doing and to avoid what they don’t. No one enjoys feeling ashamed, embarrassed or like a failure. Leaders are understandably anxious to rid themselves of the discomfort their mistakes cause.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

But discomfort is the most powerful trigger for change. This is why the best leaders embrace the discomfort that they experience after a leadership failure. They understand their distress fortifies the memory of the event, creates the motivation to avoid making the same mistake again and invites examination of the circumstances that contributed to the error, thereby creating an opportunity to improve processes and intentions.

How can you do it?

Document your feelings immediately. Feelings are inherently unstable and fleeting. Describe your painful feelings and their intensity in your journal before your brain soothes them with the usual defensive salve. If you wait, their energizing potential will be lost forever.

Describe your feelings to your colleagues. Speaking openly about your unpleasant feelings further strengthens your memories and preserves the enabling emotional pain. This admission also prevents you from denying your distress to yourselves and others later.

Resist the urge to suppress your feelings quickly. When your brain creates discomfort, it promptly begins the process of replacing it with feelings of comfort by generating rationalizations and other defensive minimizations. Resist this process long enough to learn something from your mistake.

How have you successfully embraced the discomfort caused by your mistakes?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Embrace the Discomfort They Cause appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Leaders don’t usually view their mistakes as useful leadership tools. They view them as aberrations best minimized and quickly forgotten. Leaders just want to move on. Leaders are much more likely to rationalize their mistakes than to seize on them as opportunities to learn, grow and motivate others.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Mistakes create discomfort, and distress always signals an opportunity to learn. If you choose to embrace your failure-generated discomfort instead of avoiding it, you will transform a perceived liability into an asset. By sharing what you have learned and your willingness to learn it, you will encourage fellow leaders to take the same uncomfortable risk when they fail.

How can you do it?

Embrace the discomfort. You will find this difficult to do. The human brain is wired to avoid discomfort. You will find yourself instinctively trying to put the whole thing out of your mind. Be intentional. Be tough. Make yourself feel the discomfort fully.

Accept responsibility. When you experience any unpleasant feeling, you will find yourself immediately blaming other people or circumstances beyond your control. Recognize the disruptive belief that triggered your defensiveness and replace it with the constructive belief that only your brain can make you upset.

Announce your failure quickly. The best way to contain the embarrassment of making a mistake is to stop defending yourself and take full responsibility for it instead. And just admitting your mistake is not enough. Go public, accept full responsibility, apologize. Make restitution if possible. After that, you and even your critics will be forced to admit that no reasonable leader could do more. You will all now be ready to move on.

How have you leveraged your mistakes in the past?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Leverage Them appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Mistakes are painful. Leaders naturally want to put them out of their minds as quickly as possible. Our brains work hard to comfort us, convincing us that we are nearly perfect, shielding us from self-doubt, reassuring us that we are better than most other mortals. And while people understand their leaders make mistakes every day, they do enjoy picking at their leaders’ scabs, cutting them down to size while reassuring themselves that these hypocritical leaders are no better than everyone else. Leaders don’t enjoy such public flaying, reminding their followers that it is always open season on a leader’s shortcomings.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Mistakes contain valuable lessons, but these nuggets of truth cannot be successfully mined without the mental tools reflection provides. So long as your thinking about your mistake triggers discomfort, there is an opportunity to learn. Time and intentional ignoring will soon obscure the lessons you might learn. This is why you will want to invest some time and energy reflecting while the motivating pain is still present.

How can you do it?

Make reflection a priority. Because reflection on your mistakes is so uncomfortable, you will be strongly inclined to put this off. After a day or two, you will move on to other things, and the opportunity to learn from your mistake will be lost forever. This means you will be more likely to make the same mistake again.

Document your reflections in your personal leadership journal. Just reflecting is not enough. Document your reflections in a journal. Better yet, create a leadership case study and present what you have learned to your associates. Give them a chance to learn from your mistake and to share what they have learned from their own leadership failures.

Invite feedback from your colleagues. Because your brain works overtime to reassure you that you are special, you might have missed some unflattering lessons your mistake revealed. Your colleagues will be able to see your shortcomings better than you can see them yourself.

How have you reflected profitably on your mistakes?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Reflect on Them appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

When leaders talk about their stupid mistakes, it evokes painful memories they would rather not recall. It also punctures their comforting delusion that they are exceptional people who don’t make such mistakes. Insecure leaders mistakenly believe telling stories about their weaknesses will diminish their reputations as leaders.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Actually, the opposite is true. Leaders who are forthright about their mistakes are usually viewed as more trustworthy. Down deep, we all understand how imperfect we are, and when our leaders admit the truth we feel better about ourselves. We also understand that admitting one’s failures takes guts and we admire those who are willing to take such public risks.

How can you do it?

Recognize your defensiveness. You will not be able to successfully manage your defensiveness until you recognize it and accept it as the normal way your brain responds to any perceived threat to your mental image of yourself. The best way to accomplish this is to speak the truth out loud. “I’m feeling threatened and defensive and that feeling is perfectly normal under these circumstances.” This admission will prepare you to move on to the next step.

Reframe your failure as an opportunity to succeed. If you manage your mistake promptly and appropriately, most such failures can be transformed into successes. Reasonable people are inspired when leaders take full responsibility for their shortcomings. The unreasonable people will remain critical no matter what you do.

Accept your obligation to provide a service. This is one of the things you signed up for. Leaders understand that many of their mistakes will be public. You have a duty to model how a leader should manage her mistakes.

How have you successfully shared your mistakes with others?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Share Them appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

If leaders don’t believe what they did was a mistake, they can’t learn from it. If leaders believe what they did was someone else’s fault, they will blame them instead of holding themselves accountable. If leaders minimize their lapse, they will also minimize their opportunity to learn.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If you don’t embrace the pain and discomfort triggered by your flawed judgment, your brain will fail to encode the warning signal you will need to avoid making the same mistake again. Don’t forgive yourself too quickly. A serious leadership failure is not something you should ever forget entirely.

How can you do it?

Document what happened. Write a leadership case study. Describe how you felt, what you believed and exactly how you behaved. Then describe how you felt, what you believed and what you did after you recognized your mistake.

Identify the factors that contributed. Most of us don’t fail because we are intentionally doing something wrong. We usually believe our actions are justified at the time. We may be emotionally aroused or distracted. We often make assumptions that dictate our actions. These assumptions may turn out to have been mistaken.

Share what you have learned. Offer to make presentations to other leaders about your leadership failure. Tell your story to illustrate how frequently all leaders fail and to encourage others to be more open about their own shortcomings.

How have you learned from your mistakes?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Learn from Them appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

First, there is the human tendency to become defensive when we feel threatened. Second, there is the normal impulse to minimize, explain and blame when things go wrong. Finally, there is this complicated truth. Leaders rarely make serious mistakes without a good bit of help. These complicated realities strongly incline all humans to conclude they are not entirely at fault.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

But you can only solve problems when you take responsibility for them. This means you must jump at the chance to take the blame even when the problem is not entirely your fault. Of course, others were probably complicit. Face leadership reality. Leaders take more than their share of the blame when bad things happen and less than their share of the credit when good things occur.

How can you do it?

Go on the record publicly. Communicate with everyone who was involved. Tell stories about leadership failures using yourself as an example. Offer to talk about your mistake with young leaders who are still striving to be perfect.

Keep it brief. The more you talk, the less people hear. It’s wise to remember this always, but brevity is critical when you are holding yourself accountable.

Let your feelings show. Leadership failure is painful. It’s embarrassing and humiliating. Don’t pretend that facing consequences is easy. Fellow leaders who see you leading through your pain will be more likely to follow your example when their turn comes.

How have you effectively taken responsibility for your mistakes?

The post Managing Your Mistakes: Take Responsibility for Them appeared first on SOMC Leadership.

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