There are two different kinds of mistakes; some are preventable and some aren’t.
Take calving season, for instance; a calf dies because it was born on frozen ground and simply couldn’t maintain its body temperature at that fragile time of life. If bedded, out of the wind, or warmed up, that calf would have been perfectly fine.
Then there are those rare times when a calf gets stepped on or otherwise injured or killed – the kind of event that management could have done little or nothing to prevent. The first event was preventable, the second probably was not.
Rather than discuss fixing mistakes, however, I want to dwell on how one’s attitude about mistakes can affect the success of an operation. First of all, remember that past mistakes don’t define you or your operation today. That’s the beautiful thing about life – we all have a second chance and it begins every day.
Successful people understand that mistakes aren’t only a positive thing, they’re inevitable; it’s how we respond to them that matters. I think we all inherently understand that mistakes and obstacles are opportunities, but we often don’t embrace the concept. While the key to mistakes is learning from them, that is often determined by how we handle them. We all have a tendency to want to assign blame, but when done improperly this only leads to communication breakdowns and, ultimately, to people being fearful of taking action in order to avoid mistakes.
One of my passions is reading about successful people. The three biggest contributing factors to their achievement are attitude, desire and commitment. All three can be destroyed if mistakes are used as an opportunity to punish and assign blame.
The unofficial mantra of the U.S. Marine Corps is “improvise, adapt and overcome.” The key is to take action, often bold action, and that’s only possible when mistakes are viewed as opportunities. Of course, we definitely want to avoid committing the same mistakes, but the goal is not to avoid making mistakes.
Sports provides a great illustration of this point; after all, people succeed in sports because they have failed in the past. For instance, people always talk about Michael Jordan’s game-winning shots, Pete Rose’s clutch hitting, and Babe Ruth’s home runs. But they all had a lot of misses, too, in attaining that level of expertise.
Your job as a manager is to overcome problems or obstacles, and you’ll never do that by avoiding mistakes or assigning blame. Taking action means you’re bound to make mistakes. In fact, the more boldly you act, the more mistakes you’ll likely make.
One of the great ironies is that you’ll also make mistakes by failing to take action. Those kinds of mistakes, however, are more difficult to correct and usually move you away from your goals, while the mistakes you make with initiative usually move you closer to your goals.
Making positives of negatives
Every business book out there talks about taking action and using mistakes to propel one forward. Let’s take a look at two fictitious seedstock producers and the potential difference that attitude can make.
The first seedstock producer is constantly looking for ways to breed better cattle and manage them more effectively. He takes every opportunity to learn the latest techniques and always strives to make significant improvement in his herd’s genetics. He does his homework, but makes mistakes, which he recognizes, corrects and moves on.
He empowers his employees, too, because he wants them to act and think on their own. When they make mistakes, he works to help them correct the problems, and encourages them to continue to take action.
The second seedstock producer runs his cows pretty much like he always has because he figures he can’t afford to make a mistake. He assumes his cows are pretty much perfect, so he’s fixated on producing the same product, rather than continuing to improve it. When mistakes occur, he assigns blame, shows his displeasure and punishes those responsible. Thus, his employees not only aren’t open with him, but try to cover up any mistake in order to avoid his wrath. Fearful of making mistakes, they wait for instructions rather than take the initiative, which impacts operational efficiency.
In addition, this producer’s attitude has discouraged his kids from following in his footsteps. And his cattle, which were once considered good, are now average at best.
Do you notice yourself in either of these two scenarios? The important thing to remember is that mistakes are unavoidable if one is moving forward. Making mistakes is a good thing if we deal with them in the right manner. Once the finger pointing and recriminations begin, mistakes become the steppingstones on the way down, not the way up.