Managing Mistakes & The Hunt for Red October

There are a lot of dynamics going on in our world. Tough challenges. Tough circumstances. And though at Elevate we leave the politics at the door, we’re intelligent, sensitive human beings. And we are all aware of the humanitarian issues affecting different populations at home and abroad.

I would never want to make light of current events. But they have reminded me of a lesson contained in a movie from years ago.

In 1990 — which amazingly, was somehow over thirty years ago — Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, along with an all star ensemble, starred in The Hunt For Red October — a fantastic action movie set on submarines during the Cold War between Russia and the US in the mid 1980’s.

At one dramatic point in the story, the Russian sub fires a torpedo to attack that of the US. And despite the rest of his crew’s surprise, and even doubt, Sean Connery’s character orders them to advance their craft on a heading which steers them directly into the torpedo.

To everyone’s surprise and relief, because the torpedo had no time to arm itself, when it collided with the sub it got destroyed and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Crisis averted.

We focus a lot of time on how to describe our businesses — how to pitch and market ourselves. We look at how to build and grow.

But what happens when things go wrong? When email and text signals get crossed. When balls get dropped. What happens when miscommunications happen and mistakes get made? Because as we all know, they most certainly will.

The anecdote above is a great analogy for how to diffuse a potential issue when a mistake is made. Rather than avoiding a confrontation, or hiding, go right at it. We’re much better off getting out in front of potential issues — before they can “arm themselves” — rather than attempting to run from them, cover them, or disown them.

If it’s something mathematical — such as a billing or clerical error — a missed deadline, or some other kind of human error, and you discover it, be proactive. Take ownership as soon as you can and make it right. If necessary or appropriate, ask your counterpart in the relationship what that would require.

And make sure to leave blame, shame and guilt at the door. This is just ownership. This is just claiming it because then there’s something we can do about it. There’s no need to attach much self-deprecation or judgment, no need to make ourselves wrong with significant emotional charge. It wasn’t on purpose — it was a mistake. Stay calm, explain what you discovered and your plan to make it right.

Business is all about relationship. Sometimes, making it right can get a bit complicated. So consider that rather than working it all out on your own, and hoping it will go over, you can do it in partnership with the other person, client, company lead or head of the organization.

The real mistake we can make is to try and cover the error or take a guess at what will make up for it. We might get lucky. But instead, we’re much better off communicating and creating something together that will work on both sides.

Remember, we’re all human. We’re fallible and have limitations and feelings. There is only just so much we can control. Don’t fake it — own it and then partner with the other parties involved to make sure everyone is on the same page and satisfied.

While we’d never choose for something to go wrong, with practice we can see that there’s a perfection to how things unfold. And sometimes even mistakes — when handled appropriately — can offer an opportunity to demonstrate a higher level of leadership, which might cultivate a new level of trust and relationship. And in some cases, that can even lead to more business.

There’s no need to fear. Practice courage and trust. Learn to go right toward the torpedo. Practice ownership without make wrong or judgment. Be a partner, and grow stronger through the experience.

Here’s to progress, not perfection.

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