Second Chances

New year is perfect time for second chances 

Of course, we all make mistakes. But we compound them when we don’t pull important lessons from them. As you look to a new year, ponder these questions to see if now is the right time to give a team member (and maybe yourself) a second chance. “When people are afraid to fail, they become afraid to try and that cripples both individuals and organizations,” says psychologist and author Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D. 

Second chances for employees means second chances to lead 

It’s easy to talk a good game about failing forward, taking risks and embracing the development that comes from failure. But so much harder to live it. Mistakes hit the bottom line, customer retention, team morale, career progress and our self-esteem. Which helps explain why we often penalize team members who miss the mark rather than helping them reach it the next time. Stakes are high. 

But, if some of our most valuable learning and growth really does come from miscalculations, poor judgment and basic mistakes, is there a way to know when team members deserve a second chance? According to Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Better than Perfect: Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic, what we often call failure is simply data. “It’s information you can use to grow, learn and continue to improve.” 

Start with these questions . . .  

  • Did you provide good leadership? Like so much of problem-solving, the best place to start is often the mirror. Did you set your direct-report up for success? Did you clearly articulate what success looked like? Point out behaviors that were missing the mark? Provide resources for skill development? Ensure adequate support to get the job done well? If not, start by giving yourself a second chance to be a better mentor, motivator and leader. 

  • Why did it happen? Honest mistakes happen when we are overwhelmed, working under unrealistic deadlines or lack support. If that’s the case, it’s on you to help your staff member address it. But it may be that the employee was simply careless or has a serious skill gap and that needs to be addressed.  

It’s also possible you have a great team member in the wrong job. Perhaps he doesn’t have the attention to detail needed to track inventory but would excel in sales. Is there a better role that would capitalize on strengths and minimize weaknesses? 

  • Has he owned up to it? Hiding a mistake or being indifferent to it is totally different than owning it, accepting responsibility and finding solutions. Has the team member taken action to stop the damage, gain input from others, apologize to those impacted and stay on point until the problem was resolved? 

  • Did they learn from it?  If someone can clearly articulate what they learned through the mistake, and perhaps share it with others, there is likely a strong upside. If they are defensive or unwilling to engage in self-examination, you’ve just seen a big red flag.  

  • Is prevention in the works? If a team member has already set up a new review process to prevent future mistakes after printing a major error in the new menus, the issue shouldn’t become part of a larger pattern. Especially if the solution can be applied in other circumstances as well, the mistake may have served a valuable purpose.  

In the end, if you find that a usually strong or high-potential team member has made an honest mistake and is working diligently to correct it, a second chance is likely right on target. “Most people torture themselves well enough when they drop the ball at work,” adds Lombardo. “Striking a tone of optimism in your interactions as you coach team members toward improvement will help motivate positive change rather than freezing someone in fear.”  

After all, you will need to give yourself the same encouragement — and a second chance to be an even better leader in 2020!  

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