The other day, it being after Thanksgiving and all, I made a turkey frame soup. That’s where you boil the turkey carcass then pull the meat off the bones and throw it and some vegetables and noodles into the broth. You then boil it again for a little bit and it’s soup!
I walked into the kitchen to check on my soup, which should have been about done, and I noticed that the pot had a lid on it. A lid that was much too small.
My wife had put the lid on the pot, not really noticing that it was too small, and turned the heat down. As the soup cooled it contracted and pulled the too-small lid into the top of the pot. Then, as the metals cooled the too-small lid was very tightly wedged into the pot about an inch down from the top. The seal was practically air-tight.
I explained this to my wife as I tried to pull the lid off by hand. No luck. I then grabbed a wooden spoon and stuck it under the handle on the lid to use as a lever. No way. Deciding to stop fooling around, I went to my tool box and grabbed my WonderBar, which is a prying tool.
I slipped the WonderBar under the handle and pulled up – hard. After a few seconds the lid came up. The resulting suction caused by the partial vacuum behind the lid splashed about a half-gallon of scalding hot soup all over the stove top and all over my hands. Happily, I snatched my hands mostly out of harm’s way, ending up with minor burns on the tips of a few fingers. A little aloe took care of it nicely.
My wife apologized again and again as we started cleaning up the mess with paper towels. I told her it wasn’t a big deal and that we’d get it cleaned up. Plus, there was still plenty of soup left for dinner.
A few minutes into the cleanup she paused and said, “Don’t you ever get mad?”
I thought about what she said and I realized that she wasn’t actually asking me if I ever got angry. She knew full well I got angry on ocassion. What she was asking me was why I didn’t yell at her for making a mistake and causing the Great Soup Spill.
I thought about it for a minute and I said, “Would it make you any more aware of your mistake if I yelled at you? Would you be any less likely to make that mistake again?”
“Exactly.” She already felt awful about making the mistake and the results of the mistake – especially my scalded fingers. Adding a high-decibel speech on the importance of using the correct pot lid would not have helped drive the lesson home.
All yelling would have done would be to make me feel better by making her feel stupid. In other words, I’d be building myself up by tearing her down.
Often, as leaders who make decisions and supervise juniors, our juniors will make mistakes. Mistakes of oversight, negligence or inexperience. Whatever the reason, mistakes get made; they’re a fact of life.
Most of the time your people don’t want to make mistakes and work hard to avoid making them. When they do make mistakes they probably already feel bad about it. Adding your anger or a high-volume correction to the mix isn’t going to make them feel any worse about the mistake. However, it will make them feel worse about themselves and it will make them feel worse about you as a leader.
Worse about you? Oh, yes. Making a mistake and having someone notice is one thing. It’s a lot different when that mistake is used like a club to beat you over the head and make you feel stupid. So, how are you going to feel about the person who does that to you..?
I’m going to close this out by quoting a couple items from Volume 1 of Leadership 2000, Chapter 6:
- “Create and keep cadets feeling self-confident.”
- “Respect the deep feelings of others, rather than make fun of them.”
- “All actions can be motivations. But they do not necessarily move people in the direction you had intended.”
A mistake is a chance to educate, redirect and motivate. Don’t let it turn into something that both you and your people will regret any worse than you already do…