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Rookie mistakes? Let them live & learn

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

If the people you lead freely admit their failures, bully for you. Within the safety of small groups, failure stories are easier to tell than success stories.

But here’s the curious thing: Failure stories travel quickly by word of mouth but almost never make it into formal settings or “knowledge bases” because people don’t want to look stupid in front of a larger audience.

Even so, they’re a lot more effective in teaching lessons than success stories … maybe for the same reason that people can’t turn away from auto accidents.

“Flipping” failure stories hardly ever works. Example: When one manager crashed and burned after failing to order critical materials on time, his bosses devised a hero story to press home the importance of meeting deadlines. Listeners’ response: “Zzzzzzzz.”

Lesson: How your rookies react to failure is more important than the blunder. If they make similar errors over and over, they’ll have to go. But if they absorb a lesson and move on to more complex jobs, they’re “keepers.”

Their stories will make up the stuff of real heroes.

—Adapted from In Good Company, Don Cohen, Laurence Prusak, Harvard Business School Press.

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