Recently, I asked a group of about 60 leaders from a large city, “How many of your mistakes are caused by ignorance and how many are caused by ineptitude?” They estimated that 70% to 90% of their mistakes were from ineptitude, not ignorance. They knew what to do and how to do it; and most of the time, they did it correctly— but they still made mistakes.
Research tells us that they are not unique. Most of our mistakes are not from ignorance. And leadership mistakes have lasting ramifications. Feelings get hurt, projects stall, relationships sour, boards reject good ideas that might have (perhaps should have) been accepted.
What would it do to your own effectiveness if you could cut in half the number of mistakes you make? Here’s some steps that can help you do that:
- Use a Checklist – Don’t just develop a checklist. Use it. Every time. Here’s what the group of leaders said to me about checklists. “We all have them. We all use them—most of the time. But, it’s those times that we don’t use it, that mistakes are made.”
- Ask a Mentor – When I was a young leader, I would ask myself, “How would __________ handle this situation?” I often knew the answer, and I would try to emulate what I thought he would do. At other times, I would call them and ask. I can never remember a time when one of my mentors gave me input that was counterproductive. Not one time. I’ve also discovered that age doesn’t replace the need for a mentor. I still need mentors, and you probably do too.
- Ask a Colleague – Mentors help us see things from the perspective of experience. Colleagues are in the moment. Time is always of the essence, but a conversation with a colleague who is in a similar position could give you great insights. Don’t be afraid to learn from others.
- Ask a Protégé – Having a conversation with our protégés, even if it’s an imaginary one, about what we’re planning to do can often save us from colossal errors of arrogance. Skip steps? Would we advise them to do that? Never. Trust without verifying? We would tell our protégé, “That’s a recipe for disaster.” Yet sometimes, our experience tells us, “On this one, you don’t need to worry about that this time…” Inevitably, that’s the one that gets us, right? So, have a conversation and listen to yourself.
Leadership is an art, not a science, but it’s also a disciplined set of behaviors. Discipline yourself to follow them—every time. Don’t get over-confident, and don’t be afraid to ask others to help you.