When things go poorly, own the errors and learn from them

Busy leaders should also slow down, take a breath, listen — and take the time to teach.

By Kathy Coffey / Leadership Snohomish County

As leaders, we get credit when things go well — but do we recognize or hear about what’s really happening when they don’t? What’s going on? A few common situations might include:

• A culture where everything is urgent and work is reactive.

• Leaders who micromanage their teams.

• Constant distractions leading to inconsistent direction.

Meanwhile, as you’re managing a team, or collaborating closely with a group, it’s on you to stay connected, anticipate conflicts, reach out with support, and be held accountable. While you’re dealing with deadlines and the constant disruptions that have become so normal now, it’s easy to fall into bad habits.

How do you balance it all? Is it even realistic to think that you can balance it all?

I recently talked to Brooke Leyerly, Leadership Snohomish County Signature Class of 2018, who transitioned to a new team at the Boeing Co.

“I have been training several people to take over my previous statement of work,” she said. “I have encountered some professionals who get so distracted by a new position that they move forward without spending the time that is needed to train and mentor the person taking over.”

Brooke also said, “I find that it helps to be strategic by offering detailed guidance before and during a transition. In being proactive, I provide examples of previous working hurdles, including errors. This technique has resulted in positive successful working relationships.”

A few things jumped out at me right away. She talks about:

• Spending time mentoring.

• Being strategic.

• Using examples.

How often do you include errors when you’re talking about your work? Did you notice that Brooke did?

If we can create a culture in our workplaces that encourages us to work from our strengths and be more transparent about where we might be vulnerable, we might just find that balance is less elusive. I tend to view balance as a big-picture goal, with the realization that in each phase of our life it’s inevitable that some facets require more of our attention at one time than another.

In our LSC classes, we recognize our strengths as an area where we need to focus. From grade school on, we are often encouraged to focus on improving our weaknesses. But I know that I will never excel at math. The world is a better place if I don’t spend my energy focusing on the Pythagorean theorem. Thoughtful planning, showing up as my authentic self and being willing to fail have carried me through some critical learning and management situations.

I encourage you to consider what will help carry you through.

Think about how you might assess your greatest strengths.

Listen to those around you and learn what they need to be successful and honor that. Listening is fundamental to not being that boss.

At times, the pace of our world creates an environment where being reactive can be the default. Take time to notice when you slip into that mode and then take a minute and breathe. Reset.

Remember that balance and perfection both can be illusive.

Kathy Coffey is executive director of Leadership Snohomish County, the local organization that connects, ignites and develops county-specific sustainable leaders to strengthen our communities. She is a member of Lynnwood’s Human Services Commission, is a South Everett-Mukilteo Rotarian and sits on the board of directors for the YMCA of Snohomish County. To learn more about Leadership Snohomish County, visit www.leadershipsc.org.

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