John: I am working on breaking the habit of being self-serving. John 1.0 had a tendency to take credit for success and deny responsibility for failure. In other words, it worked because of me. If it didn’t, it was because of someone or something else. On some level, it makes sense; as it protects and builds your own ego. The problem is, if you deny responsibility for when something goes wrong, you can’t learn from your mistakes. John 2.0 is accountable to everyone and does not care who gets the credit, as long as he is a valuable contributor. This made me think about the last time I made a drastic mistake as John 1.0. Maybe you thought about it too. Did the mistake occur because you spoke too quickly, didn’t get all the facts before you made a decision, or alienated someone and ruined a relationship? Chances are it was either fully or partially your fault. After all, you were there. Pain and mistakes are your greatest teachers though; without them, how can you improve?
Question for my three friends: when was the last time, you protected your ego for fear of admitting a mistake and you missed an opportunity to learn?
Jen: I cannot think of a specific situation where this exactly applied, aside from silly situations with my kids. “No, Mommy never did anything like that…” Rather, I sometimes lean too far in the opposite direction and readily admit my lack of knowledge of something early on. Let’s just say that I may sometimes tip the balance of confidence vs. transparency. I have, however, had situations where I truly believed I understood an idea or a process and set out to undertake the affiliated task. Then downstream I realized I was mistaken and had to backpedal and work extra hard to get back on point. A recent example was related to marketing and patient selection. In my specialized healthcare field, there are specific criteria and stipulations from CMS that define which patients are candidates for our care. Over a year into my role, I found out that I was mistaken about one seemingly minor caveat related to length of stay calculation. I shared this incorrect ‘fact’ with many individuals during training and in business development meetings. I used it as a point of argument for why we could not accept certain patient populations.
It took an ‘ego hit’, but I made the right choice
and I learned what I needed to.
Thankfully, my misunderstanding did not have any impact on which patients we were able to care for since our internal policy aligned with what I had been saying, just not for the same reason. I discovered my error when reading a peer-reviewed article on a different subject that happened to make mention of it. I had a jaw-dropping moment, and a knot in my throat as I dialed my boss to ask, “Have I been wrong all this time.” I risked my credibility when it was necessary for me to divulge and correct my mistake, but I did it quickly and with sincere apology. The bigger risk to my credibility, and my job, would have been to continue on sharing the misinformation, or even to dismiss it as if it never occurred. It took an ‘ego hit’, but I made the right choice and I learned what I needed to.
Molly: When I started my career in oncology clinical research, there were only five employees; two oncologists, two nurses, and one coordinator. It was all hands on deck and a great learning experience as I got to see (and do) most of the areas in clinical research. One of the areas I did not have exposure to was the clinical research contract, budget, billing, and negotiations. That was all taken care of by the university clinical research office in Tucson, about two hours south of Scottsdale, AZ. In hindsight, I wish I had taken the initiative to learn more about the process at that time. As I advanced in my career along the leadership path I quickly identified this as a knowledge gap for me. To shorten this gap, I earned my masters degree in healthcare administration, attended a clinical research finance boot camp, and hired a consultant to train our team. What was hard for me was going from being an all-around expert to having to lead a team that I had no experience in other than education. I was used to being the expert and having credibility for the changes I was recommending to the team. In this scenario, I wanted to improve our clinical trial contract language and budgets, but I was getting a lot of resistance from the team saying “this is how the industry has always been”. For financial sustainability we had to change. My solution to was hire people who I felt was a lot smarter and business savvier than me. I was very open about my lack of experience in this area when hiring. While I was uncomfortable not being the expert, it actually demonstrated leadership and character to surround myself with very talented individuals who raised the bar for everyone in the program and ultimately our patients.
Living in a loving and accepting family environment, I learned quickly in my youth that being transparent and admitting mistakes always helped me be a better person.
Trish: I can’t think of the last time that I protected my ego for fear of admitting a mistake and missed an opportunity to learn. When John posed this question, I had to sit back and think about this question, had to even walk away for a few days, come back to the question and think some more. At the end of the day, I still can’t think of a time I have done this. I assume it was in my youth, and I probably did a fair share of lying to my parents after I screwed something up or hurt myself doing something dumb. Living in a loving and accepting family environment, I learned quickly in my youth that being transparent and admitting mistakes always helped me be a better person.
I’ve lived my personal and professional life quite comfortable with admitting mistakes and being forthcoming in my knowledge base. I also feel that as a leader, it’s important to create a culture in your organization or department that promotes the fact that mistakes are made, that they can be fixed, and we all move forth better and more educated. I’ve also worked hard to create and maintain this culture in my own household.
Now, I must admit that recently, I was using electric shrub clippers in the backyard and I was bit on the foot by several red ants (if you live in the South, you know that these ants are vicious and the bites sting and itch for days!) While being bit mercilessly, I cut wayyyyy through the thick outdoor electric cord! While yelling out to my partner, throwing the clippers away from me, and assessing the ant bites, I didn’t say that I ruined the power cord and almost shocked myself. I focused my verbal re-creation on the ant bites first and then said we needed to go to Home Depot and get a new cord. After a hearty laugh, my partner later said to me on the way to Home Depot, “Why don’t you wear socks and sneakers instead of flip flops when you are out in the mulch!?!”