Wish you could have a do-over? I sure do! Lots of them – and, one specifically that I will talk more about below.
During the interviews for my new book The Can Do Workplace: A Strengths-Based Model for Nonprofits, I was struck by the candor of all four CEOs of the featured nonprofits when talking about making mistakes and failing. A hallmark of a Can Do Workplace is the unusual, positive approach to how mistakes are handled – openly, honestly and as a learning opportunity. I believe that a great workplace is built on and made much stronger by the learning opportunities afforded from both the good and the bad times. Being open about mistakes and lessons learned in a Can Do workplace helps to foster and develop important personal and organizational values. The by-products of those learning opportunities are what I call critical nuggets of wisdom that help identify gaps and needs in an organization. And, they are vitally important in preventing mistakes from happening again – and again – and again!
Here is a quick excerpt from the book, with Michelle Kinder, Executive Director at Momentous Institute in Dallas discussing how mistakes are handled there.
At Momentous Institute, they “fail fast and fail better,” learning the lessons and moving to the next step. Michelle Kinder shares, “Problems are happening every single day – some little, some big. We can’t be derailed by setbacks and we have to be very careful what meaning we ascribe to it when we do fail. Careful to check how we are thinking about ourselves, our colleagues, and the families we exist to serve. It takes an enormous commitment to look honestly at situations that don’t go well, stay in the discomfort and then move through it to a better version of ourselves.” They think this transparent and candid approach is not just a good model for operating the organization, but provides a great example for their clients. “We do not want to appear to be perfect; we want to be honest and show the kids and families how messy and hard it is to grow and succeed – and also how very much it is worth it. The message from our Board is: They strongly encourage us to push the envelope and chase innovation. When things fail they never play ‘gotcha’ with us, but they have extremely high expectations that we learn a lot from our failures and move forward.” (The Can Do Workplace, page 58).
My Lesson Learned: Here is my true confession about a recent painful mistake and embarrassing lesson learned. I discovered last month that I had made an error while editing the book: I did not have someone do a final proof of the entire manuscript after I and others had completed our edits. I reviewed the places where I saw content changes were needed, and then I released it for publication.
The result is not a huge, horrible mistake, but rather a number of places in the book where words are missing. Some “the’s” and one “exceptional”, to name a few. Enough to be a distraction to the reader at times. And, as someone who secretly corrects other peoples’ grammar and edits other peoples’ writing in my head, this is a source of significant embarrassment to me.
I have given great thought, often at 4AM, about to how best to approach dealing with it since the proverbial horse is out of the barn now – the book has been published and there is no do-over. I decided to own up to it and tell you about it out loud – in articles, on the blog, on the website and in trainings as a personal and powerful teaching tool!
I want you to know how sorry I am that this wonderful book is missing some words that might distract you from the important work of building a Can Do Workplace. And, trust me, I promise you all and myself that I will never let a manuscript go to publication that has not had a cold read by a copy editor whom I personally pay to ensure that every sentence is complete and makes sense! Worth.Every.Penny.And.More!
Whew! As a committed Can Do leader, I really believe that transparency is the best policy, but that was very hard and pretty risky. This may be the first many of you have heard of me, and some of you may reject the book, its nuggets of wisdom and me, based on this information. That is a risk I am willing to take – and hope that more of you respect me for being candid and honest about it.
My focus on lessons learned goes beyond my “true confession” here. I am a big believer in using lessons learned and the role they have not just in building a Can Do Workplace, but in living a Can Do Life! I realized when writing the book that I needed to include the realities of how difficult and messy it is to build a quality organization, so in Chapter 5, I offer some guidelines on how to “make lemonade,” if you will. I present four case studies of “lessons learned” from across my years of nonprofit leadership that correspond to the four Can Do Workplace practices of Alignment, Decision-Making, Change & Growth and Simmering the BEST Secret Sauce. As a supplemental resource to the book, I am designing a framework for developing and using lessons learned to strengthen the work and people of a Can Do organization that will be used in trainings and posted on the Can Do Workplace website.
To help me create this framework that will include new and insightful strategies for “making lemonade”, I am launching The THAT will never happen again! Contest on the Can Do Workplace Facebook page and website and on the Can Do Blog. **
Everyone has a “lesson learned” or two to share – most of them learned the hard way. By sharing them, we commit just a little bit more moving away from repeating them, and we help others to avoid them! I will give away a free copy of The Can Do Workplace (with its missing words!) to a total of four nonprofit execs, Board members and managers who submit the best and most useful answers to the following questions. I ask that you focus on one of the two questions per entry, and multiple submissions are permitted. The deadline is Thursday, December 31st.
The THAT will never happen again! Contest Questions:
Question 1: What is your most important and meaningful lesson you have learned in your nonprofit career? If you could write a policy memo to help prevent it from happening again, what would it say and why?
Question 2: What is the most important advice or lesson learned that you share with a ten year younger version of yourself that would have helped you move more quickly into a position of Can Do leadership?
Please limit your responses to 500 words as a Word Document with your contact information included at the bottom of the page. Submit entries via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “lessons learned” as the subject line. Reminder, the deadline is 5PM Eastern Time, on Thursday, December 31. If you have any questions, please submit them via the same email with Contest Questions as the subject line.
I look forward to reading your entries and learning Can Do lessons from you!
** Any content from the contest entries used in the development of the Lessons Learned Tool will only be used with the written approval of the person submitting the contest entry.