Summer's here, and with the new season comes new jobs for students and recent grads looking to begin building their resumes. For many, this will be the first job they've ever had, and along with learning the ropes of their occupation, they'll be learning how to navigate the choppy waters of the working world in general.
Whether starting one's first job, or embarking on a new role, employees face steep learning curves with a myriad of opportunities to mess up. The conundrum is that mistakes are guaranteed to happen, yet no one likes to make them, much less admit to them.
We preach that failure is good. We tell employees that as long as they learn from their mistakes, everything will be fine. We celebrate well-documented cases of many of the world's most successful people failing multiple times before ultimately achieving success:
- Henry Ford's first automobile company went out of business;
- Bill Gates' first venture, Traf-o-Data, tanked;
- Walt Disney was fired as a newspaper reporter because his editor said he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." He went on to fail at a number of businesses and ended up declaring bankruptcy, before finally succeeding.
There are countless such tales of some of the world's most successful people experiencing huge failure at first. Pundits -- myself included -- will tell you not to fear failure. As long as we learn from our mistakes, we like to preach, failure is actually a good experience, making us better.
But do any of us actually practice what we preach? Because in our current economic climate and tight, hyper-competitive job market, business leaders have the luxury of treating employees as disposable commodities.
Rather than giving the gift of leadership to the workforce by working with the employees to understand when mistakes occur, management rarely has the time to adequately mentor the workers. Instead of turning the negative into a positive, the mistake may taint the employee in the eyes of management. Meanwhile, the employee becomes insecure, often leading to further mistakes, decreased productivity, and fear.
With this vicious cycle looming, it's no surprise that people are not willing to own up to their mistakes; the fear of negative repercussions is enough to ignite the CYA instinct (Cover Your Ass) in even the most green of workers.
True leaders shouldn't want to nurture an environment of people more concerned with cover-ups than with the bottom line!
But that's what we've created, and we have only ourselves to blame, for breeding a culture of fear in the workplace. While theoretically we want our employees to admit to -- and learn from -- mistakes, the truth is that if they do so, they are likely to at best get passed over for promotion, and at worst, get fired.
In my latest book, I touch on the notion that great leaders derive victory from failure. The examples listed earlier prove it.
The late Scottish author Samuel Smiles wrote, "He who never made a mistake never made a discovery."
So in order to be a great leader, one must first experience failure. Don't we owe it to our employees to give them that opportunity?
In the Canadian workforce, I believe employers are often far too quick to overreact to mistakes that could easily be construed as learning opportunities.
How much money is this costing Canadian businesses? How many talented young people are being cast aside due to mistakes? What talent are we missing out on?
I believe it's time to find out.