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What Happens When Someone Makes A Mistake

By: Keara Mascareñaz on October 18th, 2018

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What Happens When Someone Makes A Mistake

Teams & Culture

I was fortunate in September to be able to attend and present at really great conferences. One of these was TinyCon, TinyPulse’s annual conference focused on employee engagement. The event featured fantastic speakers, and one of my favorite talks came from Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks. Howard is on our board at Education Elements, and I’ve been lucky to hear him speak a number of times. However, at TinyCon I found that his message resonated in a particularly deep way with me, both personally and professionally.

Often as leaders, we want to make things run smoothly. But Howard continually pushes us to see that people are not machines who can be “smooth” all the time. As he often says, “People are not assets. Assets are trucks, boxes, etc. Assets always give you what you expect. People are people. People never give you what you expect. You don’t even give yourself what you expect!” People are inevitably going to surprise, wow, and disappoint you. Howard offers this powerful question you can ask yourself and your organization when these people moments occur. “What happens when someone makes a mistake in the organization?” This singular question can have a tremendous impact on how we as leaders reflect and act.

When Failure Isn't Safe


As I’ve shared in previous posts, I spend much of my time helping leaders think about how to create psychological safety in their teams. But I had never asked Howard’s question before. A leader might say that s/he encourages a team to try things that are innovative, take risks, and even fail. But I have found over the past few weeks that by asking what happens when someone makes a mistake I can more quickly get to the core of their leadership style and organizational culture. The image below features one of my favorite quotes from Paul Misener, VP of Global Innovation at Amazon. I think this quote summarizes some of the key concepts in this incredible article from Oset Babur at the NY Times on why Talking About Failure is Crucial For Growth.


Experiment vs demonstrate


What Happens When Someone Makes A Mistake Blog Image  


How to shift your mistakes culture


If you want to start changing the way you react to mistakes, I recommend following these steps.

  1. Ask yourself and others “what happens when someone makes a mistake on our team/at our organization?”
  2. Discuss “how does that reaction to mistakes impact me, my teammates, and our stakeholders?”
  3. Read Talking About Failure is Crucial For Growth
  4. Join me in conversation @kearaduggan.

For leadership development and more hands-on learning, join us at the New School Rules Leadership this December. Apply below!

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This blog post was originally published on The KikiBrief.

About Keara Mascareñaz

Keara is a Managing Partner at Education Elements who focuses on how to build and scale a culture of innovation in large systems, how to create national communities of collaboration, and how to keep laughing when pursuing daunting, large-scale changes. She was lucky to collaborate with co-authors Alexis Gonzales-Black and Anthony Kim to design the website and toolkit for The NEW School Rules: 6 Practices for Responsive and Thriving Schools.