Mistakes and failures are natural parts of running a business. Even the most experienced leaders are prone to miscalculations on big decisions—especially during turbulent periods like the COVID-19 pandemic. But when leveraged properly, these setbacks offer opportunities to improve your company’s trajectory.
For example, during the early days of the pandemic, I thought it would be smart for my team to focus our efforts on client retention. With so much uncertainty on the horizon, we took on as many projects as possible to impress our clients and solidify our relationships. Ultimately, however, this decision ended up being errant because it overloaded my team with work. We were completely swamped, and no one was happy. Our morale dwindled, which negatively affected our ability to serve clients.
It did not take long for me to realize this misstep. Without hesitation, I reprioritized to strike a healthier balance between client work and employee well-being. Since then, our days have become much more structured and less chaotic. We can now provide better service to our clients because we feel happier and more enthusiastic at work. And as a whole, we are better equipped to sustain our business.
All of these positive changes were only possible because we refused to let a mistake morph into the kind of failure that defines a business.
Transform Setbacks Into Successes
It is only natural for business leaders to want to avoid mistakes. Being wrong hurts and can feel embarrassing, but seeking perfection is unfeasible—and inadvisable. The more willing you are to embrace your missteps, the more likely you will be to evolve and thrive over time. Here are three tips to help business leaders transform their setbacks into successes:
1. Confront your missteps early and often.
Don’t sweep your mistakes under the rug. Instead, strive to catch and address them as early as possible.
Sometimes the mistakes happen on a small scale. But when you continue to ignore small problems, they eventually grow and erupt into much bigger issues that are more difficult to solve. Denying your missteps means denying yourself—and your company—a chance to learn, grow and change.
2. Protect your resources.
Some business initiatives take time to pan out. They might seem like mistakes at first, but they could eventually blossom into brilliant decisions. At the same time, waiting too long for this payoff might do your company more harm than good—especially if you sink too many resources into a project or initiative that ends up being a lost cause.
The five-day workweek is woven into the fabric of the industrial landscape. But this deeply entrenched structure can also burn employees out, spread employee focus too thin and generally lead to dips in quality. To that end, popular eateries and technology empires experimented with four-day workweeks. They found that team members became more focused on important tasks, while quality remained at an acceptable level.
Be mindful of how much time, energy and money you devote to projects that are not reaching their full potential. Do not hesitate to pull the plug on low-reward initiatives that are depleting your resources.
3. Embrace awkwardness.
It can feel awkward and uncomfortable to fire an employee, cancel a project or admit to your team that you’ve made a mistake. But if you never step outside of your comfort zone, you will never grow.
For example, my company made a hire before the pandemic that, in retrospect, did not work out at all. Despite making it through the interview process, we were unable to get on the same page with this person from the start. We saw this early on, but we kept trying to make it work instead of taking action to rectify the situation.
After doing everything we possibly could to make that hire work, it was time to have the conversation that we had been delaying for some time. Though it was a dialogue that neither side wanted to have, it was in everyone’s best interest to have it.
Some business initiatives take time to pan out. They might seem like mistakes at first, but they could eventually blossom into brilliant decisions.
The talk validated a long-held instinct that we had about the choice, plus it showed us that we would have to act quickly and decisively in the future as we scale. These awkward conversations are necessary for your ongoing growth and success—and they are only uncomfortable until you master them.
Mistakes can be maddening, but only if you allow them to fester. Business leaders are better off embracing their missteps as incredible opportunities to evolve, improve and preserve valuable resources. Though it might hurt to admit when you are wrong, ignoring your errors will cause more pain over the long run—both to your business and to your career.
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