Every year, I go to the Global Leadership Summit. It is more or less what it sounds like. The two day summit has about a dozen speakers who talk about how to become a better leader.
This year's speakers included Simon Sinek, Angela Ahrendts, T.D. Jakes, Shelia Heen, Danny Meyer, John C. Maxwell, and Juliet Funt, to name a few. In the past, they have had Patrick Lencioni, Condoleezza Rice, Sheryl Sandberg, Horst Schulze, and Brene Brown to name just a handful. Google them if you don't know them and read some of what they have to say, or better yet, go find their TED Talks.
There were several themes that went through this year's talks and they are all interconnected, but one that stood out was mistakes. Particularly the importance of making mistakes, admitting them, learning from them, and letting other people make them.
Craig Groeschel said that people would rather follow a leader who is real instead of one who is always right. And real people make mistakes.
T.D. Jakes talked about how the Wright brothers got their inspiration for flying by watching eagles. Eagles nest high up in tall trees and on cliff walls and when it's time for the baby eagles to learn to fly, they don't have the benefit of safety harnesses and flying lessons. Eaglets practice flying by flapping their wings and jumping from branch to branch. Then, not too long after that, they jump out of the nest and try to fly. Eagles don't learn to fly by flying. They learn to fly by failing and learning, fast.
I got to see this in action several years ago. We had a cooper's hawk nest outside our window. I got to watch this little hawk grow up for about two months while he was in the nest. He would hop back and forth across the nest flapping wings that didn't even have big bird feathers on them yet. He was like a little ugly cotton ball hopping around. Sorry Cooper (yes, we named him Cooper), but you weren't exactly cute right after you hatched. After a couple weeks, he could get a little air, then go to farther branches, and then one day he was gone. It only took about two months from hatching to leaving the nest. But during that time, we saw a lot of flying mistakes and failure and random crazy flapping. But he learned to fly.
Another quote from the Summit was "the price of inaction is greater than the cost of making a mistake". This was said by Carla Harris, who was quoting Meg Whitman, who I believe was quoting Meister Eckhart. How many times have you done nothing so long that it turned out to be worse than if you had done what you planned in the first place. How many times have you seen a company do that. We'd like to have all the information for every decision we need to make, but we don't live in that perfect world. Sometimes you have to take action with what information you know now and risk making a mistake.
One of my favorite mistake statements was by Danny Meyer, who said "The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled." Everyone knows that everyone makes mistakes. It's how you handle them that matters. How you handle them will be what's remembered. How you handle them defines who you are. Think about a time when someone made a mistake that affected you. Did they handle it well? Did they handle it poorly? Did you tell people what happened? Of course you did. What story do you want people to tell about your mistakes.
Good leaders admit to their mistakes and work to correct them. They also let their team make mistakes. Simon Sinek said that leaders create environments where their people can do their best and know it's ok to make mistakes. Without this, people will want to protect themselves from their company. Have you ever asked for something seemingly simple and had someone say, "I can't do that, I'd lose my job." That's a person who feels like they have to protect themselves from their company or at least their manager.
The workforce is changing. The days of managers just telling employees what to do are gone. A recent Gallop poll found that only 1/3 of American workers are engaged at work. The change is being pushed by millennials, which became the largest generation in the workforce in 2016, but the changes are wanted by everyone. The study found that “They want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day. They want to learn and develop."
All of these things have pushed managers to become leaders. Managers have people who work for them. Leaders have people who want to follow them.