We’re big Harry Potter fans in the Buttiglieri household. (Our dog is even named “Lumos,” which is the spell for lighting up the end of your wand!)
One of the most impactful quotes from the series comes from Albus Dumbledore, the school’s Headmaster, genius wizard, and complete icon. He says, “I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being–forgive me–rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”
It’s not much different for mere “muggles,” either.
When we are just starting in our careers, our mistakes are plentiful…but their effect is typically minimal. They may be embarrassing but only require an apology and a quick fix. (I remember one time I saw a shelving unit in a storeroom with old books sitting on it. I thought, “Great! We need this to house our marketing literature!” and took it. Little did I know the Documentation Manager was using it to store her old materials. Ouch!)
As we gain more responsibility, the mistakes that were simply cringe-worthy start to impact our project: Incorrect data analysis; forgetting to include someone in a critical meeting; sending out the wrong training dates; purchasing a software application that isn’t the right fit; ignoring a risk until it blows up and we need to call an emergency executive meeting. These grow “correspondingly huger.”
We’re professionals, so when something happens on our project we scramble to do what it takes to set things back on track.
But there is another consequence: our reputation suffers.
We spend years working to build trust within our teams and our companies. We’ve built our reputation as someone reliable and knowledgeable.
The loss of reputation can be far worse than the mistake itself.
Of course, it doesn’t take one misstep to bring it all crashing down. But as we string them together, seeds of doubt can start to grow in our stakeholders’ minds.
How do we avoid this?
- Write it down: If you struggle to remember dates or actions from a meeting, make sure you take good notes and refer to them when you’re using that information in the future.
- Enlist a second set of eyes: The more important the communication, the more eyes should be on it. (If I take the time to have someone proof-read my Leadership Notes blog, the less I need to worry it will have the wrong subject line ;-).)
- Trust your gut: If something feels “not right,” don’t ignore it. You may not know what is wrong, but take a step back, maybe take a little time, and then look at the task or issue from another angle. If you still need to move forward despite the “something’s not right” feeling, make sure risk mitigations are firmly in place.
- Take your time: It’s easy to rush through communication because we have ten other things to do. Or toss some budget numbers out there because “they’re good enough.” The extra time is worth it – ten minutes can save two hours of re-work later.
- Avoid tough work when your brain is tired: Personally, I struggle to be creative in the late afternoon and evening. I’ve learned to schedule my day so presentation slides and blog posts are drafted before lunch, saving the afternoon for edits or more analytical tasks. Take the time to learn your most efficient pattern. If your project updates are more easily written at 8 a.m., or if you work best after the household is asleep, follow that pattern.
All these suggestions are simple and aren’t new concepts. The question we should ask ourselves is: how often do we follow them?
Do we ever tell ourselves “it will be fine” and send out an important communication…even when our gut is telling us otherwise? Do we ever think “I’ll get to it later” and then forget key information from a meeting?
Recognize that mistakes will happen. Set up your own mitigation practices. And follow them consistently. Your project will run better, your reputation will remain intact, and you’ll have fewer apologies to make.