Reverse-Engineering Your Worst Management Disasters

reverseReverse engineering is taking apart an object to see how it works in order to duplicate or enhance the object.  – WhatIs.com

Reverse engineering our disasters means really examining them, rather than sweeping them under the rug in embarrassment.We may be leaders. We may be managers, even at a high level. But being human, we will blow it sometimes. Sometimes BIG TIME. Part of recovering from our failures is to determine to grow from them.

We grow when we learn to be honest, really reflect on our disasters and their repercussions and learn to ask ourselves good, hard questions. I recommend having your management coach, immediate supervisor or trusted colleague help by asking you good questions, too. Notice that none of them are “why” questions. They’re not off-limits but it is too tempting to do the parental “why did you break the lamp?” accusation for which there is no real answer.

For each question there are implied follow-up questions that for space’s sake I did not note here. For example: “Has this happened before?” should be followed up by “Give examples. Then what happened? How did you respond then? To what consequence, if any?”

Your answers lie in the follow-up questions. All of this takes courage and accountability to do well.

Here are five examples. Make up your own.

  1. You hired the wrong wo/man

Ask yourself:

  • How well did you properly vet the individual not only according to objective criteria related to job performance, but also according to subjective attitude and cultural fit vis-a-vis your company’s values?
  • Are there any warning signs you may have discounted?
  • How seriously did you take the reference checks?
  • Did you get other colleagues’ feedback before committing to hiring them?
  • What was the on boarding process? Probationary requirements?
  • How well did you think through the kind of candidate you needed?
  • Refashion your candidate criteria according to what you now know.

2. You didn’t stand up to rebellious subordinate

Ask yourself:

  • What exactly led up to the act of insubordination?
  • Are there any interventions that might have occurred along the way?
  • What did you and didn’t you do?
  • Name your internal, gut responses.
  • Name either the fear or the incorrect thinking or actions on your part that may have allowed this to transpire
  • How can you support yourself to make sure you are better prepared to respond next time? Who can be your ally in this?

3. You blew the planning on a project (or the project manager didn’t do job)

  • Who did you allow to collaborate with you on the planning?
  • How familiar are you (or a project director you designated) with basic project planning methods, process and supporting software?
  • What was your process for choosing the project team and/or director?
  • What information and resources did the team and its leader need in order to succeed? What was provided?

4. You lost control of your meeting

Ask yourself:

  • How prepared were you to have the meeting?
  • Was there a clarity of purpose, and if so, what was it?
  • Were the goals and timing for the meeting decided jointly? Communicated up front?
  • Has this happened before?
  • Who were the players in the room? What roles did they play?
  • Did something or someone take you out of your game plan?
  • How might you re-live this meeting, only better?

5. Your behavior has cost you a (or several) valuable team members who have resigned or transferred out.

  • Has anything similar happened before?
  • What feedback about yourself have you heard? What has been your reaction to it?
  • Is there any feedback you failed to inquire deeply into, no matter where it led?
  • How, exactly, do you historically respond to negative feedback?
  • Have colleagues or superiors ever given you feedback about your management style? What has it been?
  • What options or opportunities did the team members have to engage you about their concerns before things got this bad?
  • What opportunities and channels  can you create going forward for employees to report concerns to you earlier in the grievance process and who can support you in responding to them more effectively?

I believe strongly  in honestly accounting your failures to a trusted colleague.  Covering things up and passing the blame always comes back to bite you. Always. But the best managers and leaders learn from their mistakes and are the better for them.

Related articles   Failure Coaching for Leaders

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