Learn From My Mistakes: Confrontation

boss and subordinate

The other day I was walking through our plants and noticed that a few presses were running slow. In our business, a slow cycle hurts profitability and delays orders. It should always be addressed. Yet, when the Plant Manager walked up to me and asked how things were going, I did not mention the slow cycle time. Rather, we talked about some general work things and then pivoted to our shared interests outside of work.

Walking back to my office I felt like a failure. I knew what I should have done, yet I did not do it. The difference between knowing and doing is often the difference between poor, and good, leadership. In this moment, I was obviously a poor leader.

I later shared this story with Sarah and reflected on why I did not do my job. For starters, I value the relationship I have with this Manager and placed that priority above doing my job. But, this is the unloving thing to do. As Sarah pointed out, if I truly cared for this person shouldn’t I have had the conversation with him to help him get better? Isn’t that the loving thing to do, rather than leaving him to fend for himself?

Worse, I did not have the conversation because of my own comfort level. I could list a bunch of excuses here: this happened in the middle of December and I was tired from all the demands of year-end, this mold was running in a press that is problematic or this Plant Manager has had to deal with more personnel problems this year than any of our other Managers — see, I had rehearsed them all in my head. But, these were all excuses! The truth is that I was being selfish and putting my own comfort first over doing my job. The truth is also that leadership is about doing the things that nobody else wants to do because they are uncomfortable (and often not fun to do).

After talking about this with Sarah, we prayed as we do every night after the kids go to bed. I use a helpful acronym (C.H.A.T.: Confess, Honor, Ask, Thanksgiving) to guide my prayers, so I began confessing all the things I had done wrong this day. This started with confessing the lack of love, and selfishness, I exhibited above. Whether or not you are one who prays, I would encourage all leaders to have daily reflection so they can own, and then take action on, their mistakes.

After asking God for forgiveness, I moved on with the night. But, the story does not end there.

The following day, I did what I should have done the day before by acting. Not only was the conversation short and respectful, the Manager even laughed and said he was relieved I brought it up. Together, we devised a plan to get the mold into a press that would allow it to run at cycle.

The reality is that I will mess up again in the future. I suspect that you will too. All leaders make mistakes. Owning the mistakes, when they happen, and taking action to correct them, are the things that make leaders people others want to follow into the future.