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Nov 30

What Does It Mean to Fail Well?

Building administrators are not immune from making mistakes, committing errors or just plainly goofing up. If you are an administrator and have not committed any of these behaviors, then you must have just taken over this job in the past two weeks. This is the “honey moon” time that most faculties allow for a new administrator to get settled into the job.  The rest of us have and probably will continue to make errors in  judgement at times during the year. Making a mistake is human and not necessarily related to your professional worth.  What you do after you make errors in judgement is what defines your quality as an administrator.

You are certainly aware of the dictum that we can learn from the mistakes that we make. This seems to be a correct assumption and has been the usual response to ourselves and our staff members. We encourage them and remind ourselves to learn from the mistake(s) and apply what has been learned so as not to repeat the action. Research, however, indicates that this may not be an accurate process. Researchers at Emory University examined experiences of cardiovascular surgeons to determine whether success or failure was better teacher. Analyzing data from successful and unsuccessful surgical procedures performed by individual surgeons, they discovered that failure is the best teacher mostly when someone else has failed. In other words, they have “AhHa” moments regarding mistakes of peers so as to not repeat the actions themselves (http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2012/10/10/how-learn-best-others-failure/ )  Experience does teach us not to make mistakes, but at times it comes from someone else’s error.

So, what do you do when you make a judgement call that really turns out to be a significant error?  You can just ignore it and hope that it will go away, but this would be dishonest and unacceptable behavior from a building administrator.  It will also catch up with you and could be very embarrassing.  You may not be the only person in your building aware of your mistake, so the best course of action is to “deal with it”  But how?

In a recent blog, Leadership lessons in how to fail well  by Henna Inam (http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2012/11/28/leadership-lessons-fail-well/ )she lists steps she developed to help think about failure as a process we go through rather than an event to avoid.

Step 1: “You Idiot.” – Our first response is to look for someone else to blame. When you are in error, making a self judgement may not always be easy.

Step 2: “Me Idiot.” – When mistakes occur, sometimes as a leader, you can look back and think, “I could/should have helped avoid that issue.”

Step 3:  “It’s OK. I’m OK” – One favorite saying when a minor crisis (mistake) occurs is that if no one was injured and the building is still standing, then move on with the day and do avoid trying to  beat yourself up over the issue.

Step4:  “What is the Lesson?” – Errors and mistakes happen and when they do, face the issue, correct it if necessary and move on with your day. The sooner you do this, the better you will feel.

As Inam writes, “Our jobs as leaders are to learn well.”  Keep your focus on what you do well and continue to enhance your leadership style by demonstrating confidence and clarity in your actions and decisions.