Forgive and Remember: How a Good Boss Responds to Mistakes

I’m thinking about risk.

When my tween decided to try out for a local professional production of Annie, she told me she’d feel less nervous if I auditioned along with her. I found myself muddling through a dance routine, alongside teenagers who have been taking ballet and tap since they were 4.

It’s humbling to find myself standing on the wrong foot, or singing the wrong note. I’m a better teacher now that I remember how terrifying (yet thrilling!) it is to face our temporary failures as we progress.

My 10yo performing as "Annie" and me performing as FDR. The wheelchair suggests how I well I did during the dance audition, but I do a pretty good job leading my cabinet in "Tomorrow."

My daughter performing as “Annie” and me performing as FDR in 2012. The wheelchair suggests how I well I did during the dance audition, but I do a pretty good job leading my cabinet in singing “Tomorrow.”


Here’s what Stanford Engineering School professor Robert I. Sutton has to say about failure:

You forgive because it is impossible to run an organization without making mistakes, and pointing fingers and holding grudges creates a climate of fear. You remember — and talk about the mistakes openly — so people and the system can learn. And you also remember so that you’ll notice if some people keep making the same mistakes, even after being taught how to avoid them. In that case, well, they need to be moved to another kind of job.

He also says:

Failure is inevitable, so the key to success is to be good at learning from it. The ability to capitalize on hard-won experience is a hallmark of the greatest organizations — the ones that are most adept at turning knowledge into action, that are best at developing and implementing creative ideas, that engage in evidence-based (rather than faith- or fear-based) management, and that are populated with the best bosses.Failure sucks but instructs. In fact, there is no learning without failure — and this includes failing at dangerous things like surgery and flying planes. Discovery of the moves that work well is always accompanied by discovery of moves that don’t. — Robert I. Sutton – Harvard Business Review.

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