It’s inevitable that we make mistakes in business. I agree with Peter Drucker: People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. Since the mistakes are going to happen, let’s push the envelope and move the enterprise forward.
But there is one mistake I don’t think you can make and we’re seeing it in action over the last few days.
That’s the mistake of being out of touch with your organization and, even worse, intimidating the organization into giving you a distorted sense of reality. Apparently that’s what happened at Lehman. Even as things were turning fatal, few folks there were willing to second-guess its chief executive. That’s the mistake.
I believe you’re only as good as the people who surround and support you. A critical function I’ve always asked my people to perform is to bubble up information and do so in as unfiltered a fashion as possible. Some bosses say “don’t manage me” but don’t mean it. This seems to have been such a case.
My troops used to joke about me going “on patrol” during the day – wandering around our group to chat people up. In reality, I was doing a few things to prevent the big mistake – helping them to solve problems without big meetings, checking in on them to make sure they had whatever they needed to get their jobs done, and, most importantly, trying to create an environment where the free exchange of information was welcomed and encouraged.
W. Edwards Deming said “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.” Don’t make the one mistake you can’t make!