Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lessons in manangement - It is no mistake to admit your mistakes

The key hallmark of a good professional is that the professional knows what he/she does not know.

This is key because knowing what you don't know means that you can ask for consultation, supervision, and do some research.

Pretending to know what you don't know to save face, to maintain a position of power over the other will get both the professional and the client/patient into trouble.

The same principle applies in management. I like to work with people who know what they don't know and who are not afraid to admit it and are willing to seek input and feedback from others.

I don't like to micro manage people. I don't like to play GOTCHA and catch employees doing something wrong.

It is perfectly Okay to make mistakes. I have made and continue to make plenty. The only thing I ask is that you take responsibility for your mistakes and clean up the mess. Don't blame others and avoid dealing with the consequences. When a mistake is made, the sooner it is recognized and acknowledged, the better. And then developing ways to repair the harm are essential to a high performing person and organization.

So ask your questions, do your best, make your mistakes. Don't assume that others know or that things can be glossed over and gotten away with.

Mistakes are opportunities for improvement, but only if they are recognized, acknowledged, admitted, and explored.

Creating a mistake supporting environment takes great courage, faith, and humility. Unfortunately, not many managers have courage, faith, and humility because organizations function for control, order, predictability, and compliance. These things: control, order, predictability, and compliance with standards are important, but in human activities often are nonexistent, and so how do managers deal with the lack of control, disorder, the unpredictable, and noncompliance?

Good management is as much an art as it is a science. We live in an age when we want "evidence based practice" and "research based practice". We want human service agencies to produce the predicted outcomes and "fix the problems" that people bring to them. Were it that easy.

Ignorance and mistakes abide but they are not the problem. It is the pretense that they don't abide that turns us into shamed snychophants who pretend things are one way when really they are another, who pretend that some things matter because they are under regulatory scrutiny when we know damn well that they don't really matter. We often practice in an Alice in Wonderland world where we pretend that regulatory standards matter to our clients who have no idea why we, as providers, are doing the things we are doing, because it has little to do with their concerns. We wind up treating charts, records, and documents, instead of our clients. We are forced to pretend that we know when we really don't. We are forced to pretend that things are one way when they aren't. We are forced to shove square pegs into round holes or round pegs into square holes and we get crossways with ourselves. We burn ourselves out and can't admit that we don't know what we are doing and our lives seem to have gone to fake and fraud.

I'm here to tell you that it is Okay. Let your supervisor know. If I am your supervisor, I am right there with you. I have no trouble with your shame because I am ashamed to. The systems have embarrassed us because we know we don't measure up, but then neither do our clients and so together we humbly admit our ignorance and mistakes, and rather than shame you will mostly likely get understanding, solace, support, and love.

Good management is really an act of love because none of us is perfect and good managers can accept this and work with it and together we will create an organization which provides high quality services to its clients whom it cares about.

So make all the mistakes you want, just clean up the mess. And if you want help, ask, and if you don't know, question. There is no such thing as a stupid question.

This is article #2 in a series in Lessons on management.

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