Admitting my biggest mistake

Apr 7, 2011 by

As usual, Rosetta Thurman is a blogger’s godsend, and has been providing regular ideas and tips over at her Blogging for Branding spot. If you don’t follow it, get over there right now and subscribe – seriously, right now.

One of her latest topic suggestions was to write about one’s biggest mistake. It’s a bold topic for sure and one that’s not easy to write about. After all, who wants to admit errors, especially if you’re blogging to get noticed professionally? But it’s an important topic nonetheless. I believe firmly that transparency is a necessary component of leadership; admitting mistakes is a big part of that.

I have to admit that thinking of my biggest mistake was difficult. No, not because I don’t have enough to choose from but because I have too many. But after some thinking I decided on one: several years ago I didn’t fire someone that deserved to be fired. That sort of sounds like it wasn’t a mistake, but it definitely was – trust me.

She was an (unpaid) intern that I had hired to help with a fairly large, long-term project. Throughout the time we worked together she had done an adequate job – not great, not horrible. But about three weeks before her internship ended, she somehow managed (accidentally I hope) to erase the better part of a huge spreadsheet that contained all the important contact information and notes about the project. What’s more, she didn’t even seem remorseful about it, nor did she attempt to fix it or try to recover the data.

So how was this my mistake? Well I didn’t have the guts to confront her head on about it as her supervisor which meant that I had to recover all that work myself. I also got dinged on my next performance review for not dealing with the problem. Plus, I was incredibly guilty and frustrated about the whole situation which affected my productivity for weeks. And because I never talked to her about it, she probably never knew that it was a major problem or how to fix it. I didn’t help her to learn and grow, which is one of the biggest mistakes a supervisor can make in my opinion.

I haven’t faced a similar situation since, but I did learn from that mistake: don’t avoid conflict, don’t miss a chance to educate someone you supervise and don’t be a coward. Lesson learned.

*Flickr photo courtesy of concrete_jungler101

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