On an almost daily basis, we encounter a situation in which someone has said or done something that either complicates our lives or “un-does” something we’ve strived to put in place or that simply reflects poor work. Sometimes, people just do dumb things—ourselves included. As managers, there are several ways we can handle such situations. First, we have an obligation to share our observations with the “offender” and attempt to help him or her learn from the mistake. That’s part of what being a good manager is—making other people better at what they do. However, when we are trying to mitigate whatever the person did wrong or did poorly, it is very important that we focus on the action or behavior rather than the person; that we point out potential solutions or alternatives rather than just the mistake, and that above all, we are disciplined about not hurting the individual’s feelings. This may sound “soft” or “un-businesslike,” but at the end of the day, every enterprise, every operation, is dependent on the work of people. When we make people feel bad about themselves rather than focused on what they can do better, we end up with folks who are often less effective than before they made the mistake!
Similarly, we have choices about the values we adhere to and emulate in the workplace. As I noted in my post about creating a personal vision statement, at the end of the last day, we will not be judged or remembered by how many meetings we attended or how many subordinates we “took to the woodshed.” On the contrary, our legacy will ultimately be about the relationships we built and the extent to which people around us are better off for having been associated with us.