One of my favourite comedy films is the ‘Some like it hot’. In the very last scene, Jack Lemmon’s character – Jerry – who has been masquerading as a woman to escape some 1920s gangsters, is explaining to Joe E Brown character -Osgood Fielding III – why he can’t marry him. As each excuse is rebutted by Osgood, Jerry says “I’m a man” to which Osgood responds “Well, nobody’s perfect”.
Many us of us spend all of our lives trying to achieve perfection when often, just being good enough is sufficient. More importantly, people who try to be perfect find it very difficult to cope with failure. The reality is that we will all fail in our lives at some point or other and probably fail more than once.
The more we try to achieve, the more we will probably fail. As George Bernard Shaw said
A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing
Failure or mistakes are not necessarily negative. It is how you deal with failure that decides whether it will be a positive or negative experience. In my experience people either
1) refuse to accept they have made a mistake or failed and try to put the blame on others
2) admit the mistake or failure, come up with a way to do damage limitation and learn from the experience.
Ideally, you want the second type of person in your team but you can’t always choose who you end up.
So how do you encourage the second type of behaviour?
1) Try to operate a ‘no blame culture. Don’t be afraid to expose failure or mistakes and discuss them openly and concentrate on the solution and the learning, not the failure.
2) Encourage your team to think about what could have been done better. What were the lessons learnt?
3) Encourage your team to look forwards and not backwards. What is done, is done and you can’t change it but you can learn from it.
It won’t work with everyone. I have had team members for whom it doesn’t matter what you do or say, they can’t cope with failure and they won’t stop a failing project, even when it is clear to everyone that it should be terminated. In fact, they will get very upset when you stop the project and even offended at your attempts to point them in the right direction.
As a manager, you yourself will fail with some of your team. It can be discouraging when you give opportunities to and support people to develop but they are unable or unwilling to change negative patterns of behaviour.
At times like these, remember Osgood Fielding III – “Well, nobody’s perfect”.