We Asked, You Answered: Learning From Mistakes

Mistakes happen, but correcting them can be quite the challenge. Learn how other association pros bounced back from past errors.

Try as you might, mistakes will always be there to put a stumble in your step. Depending on the level or type of mistake, possibly even your staff’s too.

So how can you turn that stumble into a spring? A little quick thinking and a willingness to take a step back help, according to respondents to our recent poll question.

Here are just a few of the answers we received:

Donte Shannon, CAE

CEO, Association of Equipment Management Professionals

In my first executive director role, there were components of the job I had to navigate without having prior experience. While I tried my best to avoid mistakes, being human, it’s inevitable. Here are three things I learned about overcoming mistakes:

  1. Leaders always accept responsibility for their mistakes. Being accountable and not blaming others when things go wrong is the first step in moving things in the right direction.
  2. Have a clear plan to correct the mistake. Don’t spend a lot of time explaining how the mistake was made, but rather how you will fix the mistake and what processes/ practices you will implement going forward to prevent the mistake from happening again.
  3. Move on. Leaders don’t dwell or wallow in the fact that a mistake was made. They understand that mistakes are part of the professional refinement process and are unavoidable on the journey to being great. The only difference is they know not to make the same mistake twice.

Lauren Harley

Assistant Director of Education & Certification, MCI Group

First, I stop and get control of my emotions. Most people overreact, which doesn’t help the situation. Next, I think of ways to rectify the situation. Once I come up with the best option, I immediately go to my supervisor and explain what happened and how I think we should move forward.

I am mindful of my attitude—you should humbly explain without being overly apologetic because at the end of the day mistakes happen, you don’t need to dwell on it for too long, and the best use of your time will be to work on the solution. Coming to your supervisor with solutions is a characteristic of a true leader and an opportunity for innovation. There was a time when I missed a deadline, and it felt like a huge mistake initially. Through a solution, I came up with a new process that was more efficient, and we ended up changing our process altogether.

Matt Rankin

Director of Membership Development, Intellectual Property Owners Association

At another association early in my career, I was promoted to director of a department for the first time. For the first year or so, I was a constant micromanager. After all, who knew better than me how to do my staff’s job? Huge mistake. My work suffered, and their work was stifled. Fortunately, I figured out how to put my ego aside, delegate, and trust my staff.

Elizabeth George, CMM

Director of Member Engagement & Chapter Development, American Guild of Organists

The American Guild of Organists is an organization of 14,000 members, including a huge segment of members over 65. Our organization is over 100 years old and very traditional. As we had had little success by renewing memberships with email, I created a letter to members about to be dropped with a heading “FINAL NOTICE. Adios, Sayonara, Ciao, Auf Wiedersehen, Au Revoir! We hate to say goodbye. Your membership will drop as of …” and stated the benefits they would no longer have.

I received feedback from quite a few members who felt the letter was uncaring and rude. I quickly learned that our older members do not utilize email (three renewal emails had already been sent to them) and that we would need to create a phone and mail campaign to get their attention. Understanding the unique culture of your organization is critical, as I quickly learned.

Abigail Appleton

Executive Assistant, U.S. Grains Council

I’ve made tons of mistakes at work, and I’m always grateful when they can be caught before it’s a big issue—I see my role as being a safety net for any of my colleagues, but that leaves me without a safety net a lot. When I do make a mistake that cannot be more easily corrected, I decided a long time ago that I will always own it and discuss the mistake and its effects with whomever it affects. I apologize, help brainstorm solutions, and make copious notes in process documents, my calendar, or wherever else it may make sense to help avoid the mistake in the future.

(filipfoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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