4 – Leaders Make Mistakes

4 – Leaders Make Mistakes

Leadership and Mistakes

Nelson Mandela once said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” When you think strong leaders, failure usually doesn’t spring to mind – yet in our conversations with entrepreneurs and experts, they tell us that the strongest leaders see mistakes as learning opportunities.

Today’s segment is the first in a series of podcasts on the topic of leadership and will focus on how effective leaders handle mistakes.

Transcript

Weill: If you really want to be a leader you have to be willing to take the responsibility for making the mistake

Leveen: You have to keep your mouth shut in some cases and let them go ahead and make the mistakes, let them cost the company a little bit of money, let them learn the lessons, let them grow.

Maine: When people that I delegate to make mistakes, they’re accepted as learning experiences instead of errors or horrible deeds.

Kristen: Welcome to “Sound Advice” – the brief audio download that brings the best of eClips to you. I’m Kirsten Barker.

Nelson Mandela once said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” When you think strong leaders, failure usually doesn’t spring to mind – yet in our conversations with entrepreneurs and experts, they tell us that the strongest leaders see mistakes as learning opportunities.

Today’s segment is the first in a series of podcasts on the topic of leadership and will focus on how effective leaders handle mistakes.

Sanford Weill is Chairman Emeritus of Citigroup Inc., the diversified global financial services company formed in 1998 through the merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group. Weill retired as CEO of Citigroup on October 1, 2003, and served as Chairman until April 18, 2006. Weill emphasizes that no one is perfect and the best thing a leader can do is admit when he is wrong.

Weill: Being a second guesser is terrific, but if you really want to be a leader you have to be willing to take the responsibility for making the mistake and because no leader is going to be right all the time and no person is going to be right all the time but if you make a mistake, you know correct that mistake, surface it so other people can help you, don’t hide the mistake and try and pray it gets better because usually that doesn’t happen, it gets worse.

Kristen: Donald Gulbrandsen is the founder of Gulbrandsen Technologies and Gulbrandsen Chemicals. His company manufactures water treatment products, chemical intermediates and catalysts used in the process industry. According to Don, it’s important to share with your team the mistakes that you have made as a leader because it gives permission to employees to be honest about their mistakes. It also encourages people to learn from past errors rather than hiding them

Gulbrandson: Well I have a lot of failures and I think it’s valuable to talk about them. I think I try to share them, you know, when they happen. I think it’s a great leadership moment when you have a failure and you can share it. I think it gives permission for other people to be honest about it and you know, if you can make … if you can be comfortable making a mistake once, you know, you learn, that’s how you learn, you move on. Repeated mistakes is you know, something for a discipline action but having the license to make a mistake is important and I think if leaders can share their own mistakes, it gives permission.

Kristen: Steve Leveen is the co-founder and CEO of Levenger, the successful Internet and retail company, that sells tools for serious readers, writers and thinkers. From his point of view, a strong leader is not only defined by how he handles his own mistakes – but also by how he reacts to mistakes made by other members of the company.

Leveen: One of the dangers of high-performing entrepreneurs is that they’re high-performing entrepreneurs. And as the leader, as you organization grows, you have to learn where you need to step back and not give the answers. Because if you are always the one with the answers, you organization will come to you and expect those answers, and that will be a tremendous barrier to growth in the organization because there’s only so much any one person can do. And if you create an organization where you are the hero, you are the one who is going to come in and make the tough – well, you always have to make the tough decisions as a CEO. But if you’re the one who solves the problems, bad situation. And it’s tough because sometimes you have to let people make mistakes when you know they’re going to be mistakes. Worse than that, you know it could cost the business money. And you have to keep your mouth shut in some cases and let them go ahead and make the mistakes, let them cost the company a little bit of money, let them learn the lessons, let them grow. And that’s the difficult art of being a leader. I imagine that’s what a coach has to do sometimes when he has to put players out there. And you may lose a ball game or two.

Kristen: Finally we’ll hear from Sandy Maine. Maine is a social entrepreneur and founder of SunFeather Natural Soap Company, which has been creating artisan body care products for over 25 years. Maine resonates with Steve Leveen and goes further to say that the blame game is never effective – instead, successful leaders need to create a culture of acceptance which will work for both sides when mistakes are made.

Maine: And I also have a policy of not blaming people when they do something that doesn’t work out, because I find that that inhibits them in the future, just like it would inhibit me if someone was, you know, criticizing me for a mistake I’d made. And I’ve certainly made my share, and I also still make mistakes that affect my employees’ welfare and they return that kindness to me when I do something wrong, like make a bad decision that affects their income or their lives. They don’t rake me over the coals for it. When people that I delegate to make mistakes, they’re accepted as learning experiences instead of errors or horrible deeds.

Kristen: As Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” According to our speakers, successful leaders not only maintain their enthusiasm in these situations but also create environments where their people can be successful by doing the same.

Thanks for listening to this segment. If you are interested in hearing more from Sandy Weil, Donald Gulbrandsen, Steve Leveen or Sandy Maine, or if you are interested in hearing more eClips speakers share thoughts on the topic of leadership, please check out our website at eclips.cornell.edu.

That’s E-C-L-I-P-S. cornell.edu.

And remember, if it is a business topic of interest, eClips will bring you “Sound Advice”…


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