How smart employees should handle errors at work

Being a leader is in itself a big challenge – a reason most people would rather follow than lead the way. One’s abilities are always proven through tests,  in a practical way, and this goes a long way in determining how successful a leader can be.

“A first-time leadership job is very stressful,” said Richard Wellins, senior vice president of HR consulting firm Development Dimensions International (DDI) and co-author of “Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others” (Wiley, 2015). “There’s a significant change in roles and responsibilities. Success comes not from what you do … but from what you do to grow and develop others.”

Leadership challenges vary by organization, but many of the most common have to do with motivating, encouraging, and effectively managing people.

Employers have worse problems than any worker can ever imagine. These challenges include: the pressure to rise to another level, the need to test yourself and improve in the process, and to show that you can accomplish something that may seem difficult or even impossible.

“It’s a difficult transition because your identity [among] your peers and colleagues changes,” Wellins said. “You have to shift and identify as a leader.”


However we choose to look at it, every employer battles three “demons” of factors which are: external, coming from people and situations; internal, stemming from within the leader himself; and those arising from the nature of the leadership role.

Diane Omdahl, president and co-founder of Medicare consultation firm 65 Incorporated, said that when she first stepped into a leadership position, she realized there were many opportunities for “teaching moments.” The challenge, however, is knowing how and when to teach others, especially if there’s a conflict that must be addressed.

“As a first-time leader, you’re in a position you’re unfamiliar with,” Omdahl told Business News Daily. “You might feel like you’re overstepping your boundaries when you have to confront a co-worker on an issue. But, just because you’re in a leadership position doesn’t mean you need to change your attitude or how you approach your work.”

“Employees feed off of that — leaders who lead by example cultivate the next generation of great leaders,” she said.

Mark Suster, a partner at Upfront Ventures who writes on, wrote this about employers and ways of handling errors.

I was once involved with a company (not as an investor) where an embarrassing mistake was made. One of the leaders took a sort of “heads will roll” approach. It’s not my company so I basically stayed out but tried to encourage him to think differently about the “punishment.” I didn’t stick around for the repercussions so I hope the process was balanced.

But it got me thinking about the topic of leadership and how to manage people through “light” and “heat.” (Think carrot & stick but I like my analogy better because we’re humans not animals.)

As a leader you need to have both heat and light in your arsenal. You cannot lead all people all of the time through light. In my experience some individuals are the over-achievers who are looking for stars on their foreheads and thrive on constant positive feedback. For these people you need to lead through *mostly* light. There are other types of people (let’s say, prone to a bit of laziness or procrastination) who tend to be motivated more by fear of being in “trouble” and not wanting to look bad. These people are led better through a bit of heat.

I know the populist answer is to lead through only light. But as a father let me offer you this analogy. I spend a lot of the time with my kids trying to tell them things like, “if you want to be able to buy nice things in life you need to work hard” because I don’t want them to take all that they have for granted. I tend to praise their efforts as much as their results while still emphasizing the importance of actual results. I try to be a “light” daddy. Mostly.

But when they’re being naughty an “I’ll buy you ice cream if you’re good” approach doesn’t work and isn’t warranted. I much simpler, “if I have to come over there and separate you two, you’re going to lose your lego set for a week” yields better results. Not with a yell. Certainly never with violence. But with heat.

But that begs the question, What is “heat” and how do you apply it?

I always felt that the “disappointed dad” (or mom!) approach in business worked more effectively than yelling. It is crushing to somebody when they hear messages like, “I would have expected you to have planned better for this meeting. I put a lot of trust in you and I feel let down that you didn’t take this seriously enough to prepare.” And then followed with “listen, I don’t want to see this happen again. Let’s work on a plan to make sure it doesn’t. But to be clear, if I see this again I’m going to have to consider consequences.”