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How to Manage Errors from the Top Down

Posted by Josh Espinosa on May 01, 2018 7:13 AM
How to Manage Errors from the Top Down

As the snow melts and the birds began to chirp, the sounds of the ballpark echo across America. After four months of winter, there’s nothing like hearing the crack of the bat, the thump of a baseball hitting the catcher’s mitt and 30,000 people singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” out of key.

But one of the most underrated things about baseball is the way play-by-play announcers react to errors on routine plays -- you can almost hear them smack their palms against their foreheads.

It’s a little bit of unexpected comedy during a somewhat repetitive and sometimes sleepy game. Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing that’s funny about an error, as they can have deep ramifications throughout not only the current inning, but the rest of the game, too.

Understanding the different ways baseball teams handle errors can help you at work as well. In fact, how you respond when the wrong shipment goes out or when projects blow the budget can tell a lot about your leadership style -- and reveal the blind spots that you can improve. 

Dealing with the Immediate Aftermath of Mistakes

On the baseball diamond, it’s the pitcher who’s tasked with the initial cleanup of the fielder’s mess. While a rising pitch count threatens to take him out of the game earlier than anticipated, that’s a secondary priority to making sure the run doesn’t score, which is the worst-case scenario of an error.

Essentially, the entire game plan shifts to putting out the fire at hand.

The same kind of scenario plays out in offices when a mistake leads to a crisis. Leaders often have to shift their goals from their long-term strategies to clean up short-term messes. There’s just too much on the line when it comes to keeping customers, clients, the board and executive leaders happy.

So, how can leaders be most effective when handling these situations? Well, the best pitchers keep an even keel, knowing that even as anger or fear bubbles under the surface, getting the situation under control requires clarity in thought and execution of their pitches -- things that get clouded when negative emotions or judgments get the best of them.

Gauging the Overarching Ramifications

Once the bleeding has stopped and the inning’s over, pitchers, their managers and the assistant coaches often have a quick huddle to reassess and check in.

Sometimes the ramifications of an error are minimal -- a couple added pitches isn’t going to change the game much. Other times they’re disastrous.

In business, leaders face the same challenges when mistakes are made, and making an honest reassessment in the wake of unexpected errors can sometimes mean the difference between a promotion and a pink slip.

Furthermore, gaining an outside perspective by consulting with colleagues is valuable in minimizing the long-term effects of mistakes, but can also help prevent them from happening again.

Look, Sometimes You Have to Fire Someone, But... 

Pros know when they make mistakes. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do but look at them, smirk and shake your head in relief, especially when there wasn’t too much damage. They’re the people on your team who you can count on to do what it takes to help ensure they won’t let you down again.

For the less-experienced team members, there’s often a teaching moment that comes along with errors. The opportunity to teach can lead to better trust on both sides.

Everyone wins when there’s trust, teaching, and empathy.

Are Your Leaders Effectively Dealing with Mistakes?

Everyone knows mistakes happen in theory, but in practice, the notion can be hard to live by. Through innovative coaching methods, David Couper Consulting helps leaders in companies all over the world develop skills that lessen the negative impact of unexpected errors and helps strengthen the organizational tree from top to bottom. For more information about working with us, contact info@davidcouperconsulting.com.

Josh Espinosa is a freelance writer and designer. He also founded The Approachable Music Project, a music education program on a mission to make learning to play easier on people.

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