Monday, November 4, 2013

What If I Make a Mistake?

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What do you mean "if"? Isn't this a better question to ask: What happens when I make a mistake?

Because you're going to make them. You'll make them, I'll make them, everyone in this organization is going to make them--and some of them are going to be whoppers. Did you really think we were going to be able to navigate the difficult waters ahead without making any mistakes?

I mean, look around. Surely you can see all the uncertainty that surrounds us. And surely you can appreciate how difficult it is just making sure everyone is rowing in the same direction, much less trying to get us all to any particular destination. You might think that it's my job as the boss to do exactly that--to remove the uncertainty and provide a well-reasoned and resourced plan that will inexorably lead to our success. A lot of people think that. And I guess they're not far wrong in doing so.

But how do you think someone in my position comes up with such a plan? Maybe you think that's what the corner office is for. I do spend a lot of time in there, after all. Maybe you think I'm sitting in there for hours at a time, thinking and devising the grand strategy that will solve all of our problems. Right?

Wrong. The plan--to the extent that it exists at all--isn't cooked up in isolation from the people it's meant to serve. Rather, it's created in continuous interaction with them. There is no end to the amount of behind-the-scenes work that we must do to prepare for those interactions. That's the nature of our work. But if we never push ourselves out onto the stage--if we never get in front of our members and let them see what we've been working on--then we will never learn anything about what they really need from us and how we can best provide it. In fact, the more frequently we can interact with them, the better.

That means taking risks. That means doing things we don't fully understand. That means launching things that aren't yet finished. And all of that means making mistakes. And being comfortable with it.

So let me try to answer that better question for you. What happens when you make a mistake?

Simple. You learn. And if you share what you learned with everyone in the organization, then the organization leans, too. And that--learning--is frankly more important than any particular objective we might want to apply that learning to.

Let me put it this way. No one gets in trouble around here for making mistakes. They get in trouble for not learning from the mistakes they make.

Isn't that obvious? If not, then I must be making mistakes of my own.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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