Get Comfortable With Mistakes


One day a few years ago, my daughter and I had to drive about thirty miles on county roads through rural Indiana. Snow was not falling on the day we made this drive. However, there was plenty of snow in the fields on either side of the roads and the wind was blowing. Under these conditions, large sections of these roads are often covered with several inches of snow even though no snow is falling and most of the road surfaces are clear and dry.

As we got our things together and made our way to the car, my daughter asked if she could drive. At the time, she was fifteen and driving with a learners permit. She had very limited experience driving on snow or ice.

I thought about the possible conditions we could encounter, the risks we might face, and I said “Sure.”

Did I know that the roads would be clear and dry for our entire drive? No. Was I aware that my daughter might experience some mildly challenging road conditions? Yes. Was I a little nervous? Yes.

If I knew the risk, why did I let her drive? So that she could learn while I was watching and coaching her rather than when she was alone and dealing with the situation on her own.

She did encounter several stretches of road with between 4 and 6 inches of snow. As she approached the first snow-covered section, I encouraged her to slow down and I offered coaching on how to minimize sliding and spinning as she hit the snow. She listened to and acted on my coaching – partially. As a result, she hit the snow a bit too fast, the front tires got caught in a rut that pulled the car sideways, and the car began to slide. It was rather exciting for a moment, and she got the car back under control pretty quickly.

Her approach to and handling of the snow-covered road sections got progressively better until she managed to navigate them almost perfectly by the time we reached our destination.

When you become a leader, you take on the responsibility for the actions and results of others and for helping the people you lead to learn new skills. As a consequence, you will see the people you lead make mistakes.

If you are like most of the leaders that I know, this will frustrate you. I know that it does me. And, if you want the people on your team to learn, grow, and develop, you have got to let them make some mistakes.

Watching other people make mistakes that you could have avoided is not easy to do. While I was in the car with my daughter, it was definitely not easy to watch – or experience – as a passenger. In this case, the road we took is lightly traveled, and I did not expect to encounter much traffic. In other words, it was a relatively safe environment – not a risk-free one – for her to make mistakes.  In the end, she learned a little from my coaching, and she learned more from her mistakes.

If you want to help others learn and grow, get comfortable with allowing them to make mistakes in small, safe ways so that they can learn the lessons they could never learn from your coaching.

Your Now Step: Pick a person on your team who you would like to learn new skills. In the next 24 hours, find a way to delegate a task to her that carries some risk of failure because she has not done it before. Stand back and let her do it.

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

Change Your Delivery

Delivering a package

If you lead others, you are in the change business. When you are in the change business, you will eventually have to deal with resistance to your ideas, the direction you want to go, the new behaviors you are expecting, and more. Dealing with resistance is a normal part of leadership.

When you attempt to create change that involves other people, they will inevitably ask the question: “What’s in it for me?” Until they get a satisfactory answer to that question, the odds that they will stay locked in resistance are pretty high.

In order to transform resistance into acceptance, give people an answer to this question as soon as possible. When you give the answer, deliver it in a way that people see the personal, positive benefits of the change from their perspective.

If you have been reading leadership development resources for any time at all, this concept is probably not new to you. While the idea is not necessarily new, many new leaders fail in their efforts to answer the question effectively for a very simple reason – they fall prey to what behavioral analysts call “perception error.”

Perception error is the tendency most people have of misreading other people’s perspectives and motivations by assuming that other people do things or are motivated by the same things that motivate the leader. For example, I am very factual and data driven. If I am not very careful, I tend to give people far more information than they care about. When I do that, I give them what’s important to me rather than what’s important to them – I fall victim to my own perception error.

The simple solution to this challenge is to match your word choice, tone, pace, level of detail, and energy level to the person receiving the message. When you do this well, you improve the odds that they hear “what’s in it for them” in your message rather than “what’s in it for you.”

Here are some tips to help you do this more effectively:

  • Match your vocal pace to theirs. If they tend to speak quickly, then speak quickly. If they speak more slowly, then slow down.
  • Use words the they would use. For example…

    If they talk about how they feel about the change. Then talk about feelings and emotions. Make sure you smile and use more stories than facts to relay your vision of the post change situation.

    If they talk about what they think about the change, then talk about thoughts and facts more than about feelings. Stay focused on projected results, data, and value created by the change.

In any case, do the best you can to make the communication clearly state how the change will affect them rather than how it will impact the organization.

Your Now Step:  Think about a change you hope to create within your team. Now, think about a person that you need to communicate with about this change. Do they speak quickly or more methodically? Do they focus on results and facts or emotions and relationships? Practice tailoring your delivery to match them.

How to Plan a Wedding Reception in Seven Days

The Food Table

Last month, my wife created  a miracle. She planned and pulled-off a wedding reception in seven days.

Yes, you read that correctly — seven days from decision to wedding and reception.

Many things happened leading up to the decision, but the simple answer for the question “Why would you do that?” comes down to my daughter’s fiance (now husband) receiving orders to Germany following the completion of his training as an Army medic in March. Since she is a sophomore in college who intends to finish school before joining him permanently in Germany, the break between semesters was the best time for them.

The lessons from the family decision-making process reveal some great communication, conflict resolution, and leadership lessons; and those are stories for other posts on other days. For now, I’m focusing on what happened in the seven days starting December 16th and ending on December 22nd.

We chose to keep things fairly simple, and still it was amazing. There was a wedding dress for the bride, a bridesmaid’s dress for her sister, and a new dress for my wife. There were flowers for the bride, the bridesmaid, and the groom’s best person (his twin sister). There were church sanctuary and fellowship hall decorations. There was a cake. There were heavy hors d’oeuvres chosen to match the first meals as married couples for the new couple, my wife and I, my parents, and my grandparents. There were photographs. There was special music. The beautiful bride (yes, I’m biased) danced with both her husband and her father.

As one friend said, “If you didn’t know the story behind this wedding, you would think you had been planning it for months.”

It was amazing. It was beautiful. And despite the many opportunities to have conflicts and arguments caused by the stress and pressure of the short timeline, everyone came through the process with relationships intact.

At one point during the day of the wedding, another friend asked me how we managed to pull it all together so quickly. I replied: “Some people say this wedding came together in seven days, and it really took fourteen years.”  The comment that came to me spontaneously in response to my friend’s question gets to the learning point of this experience.

You see, we have lived in this rural, Indiana community since 1998. In that time, we have made great friends in churches, businesses, and community organizations throughout the county. We have no immediate family here. We do have great friends.

The wedding reception came together in seven days because of the depth of relationships built up over the course of those fourteen years.

Yes, my wife is great at organizing and delegating. And, her skill would not have mattered without the willing, discretionary effort of the people around her. No amount of ordering and coercing would have gotten the job done. Good will, common focus, and strong relationships did.

The lesson for leaders is this:

To accomplish great things in a short amount of time, invest in relationships before you need something done.

This post would not be complete without saying thank-you to our friends from all over Montgomery County. To us, it doesn’t seem like enough to just say thank-you, and we are so overwhelmed with your generosity, we don’t know what else to say. Thanks.

(If you’d like to see the wedding, there’s a video and pictures at

Five Common Responses to Conflict

Take the Conflict Confidence Quiz

In my work with clients of all kinds, I have noticed five basic types of response to conflict. I see people who are…

Conflict Rock Stars

Conflict Rock Stars are almost always in control of their responses. They know how to communicate calmly and assertively in nearly every situation. Their response seems easy and effortless to the outside observer.

Conflict Confident

People who are Conflict Confident demonstrate appropriate responses to most conflicts. They respond in ways that lead to resolution rather than to escalation. Even though they might feel some unease or discomfort in conflict,  they engage confidently and lead towards resolution.

Conflict Quesy

The Conflict Quesy person either gets a knot in their stomach or a little flash of anger that causes them to be a little too passive or a little too aggressive. In fact, they might switch between to0 aggressive, too passive and confident responses in the same encounter. In general, they do pretty well in conflict, and they respond in ways that feel like they will lead to resolution. However, they are often confused and frustrated when their responses unintentionally escalate conflicts.

Conflict Chickens

Conflict Chickens run from conflict almost every time. They avoid confrontation and conflict to the point that they fail to engage even when needed to resolve the situation. Their failure to engage often leads to escalation rather than deescalation because the issues causing the conflict remain unresolved.

Conflict Coercers

Conflict Coercers are on the other end of the spectrum from Conflict Chickens. They often dive in to conflict and push for resolution in a way that inflames rather than calms the situation. They sometimes think they have resolved a conflict when they drive a Conflict Chicken to silence or out of the conversation.

I did not derive these categories from a sophisticated and comprehensive statistical analysis. So please, don’t over read them. They are simply built on my observations from working and talking with lots of people about their responses and approaches to conflict and then observing how the conflicts develop and end.

It seems that most people are in the Conflict Quesy category. There are also a pretty significant number of Conflict Chickens and Conflict Coercers. There are fewer Conflict Confident people, and fewer still Conflict Rock Stars.

The good news is that no matter where you start, you can become Conflict Confident. With enough study and practice, you could even become a Conflict Rock Star. The growth in your conflict resolution skills begins when you learn to accurately diagnose and read conflict situations and how to respond appropriately — confidently — to the conflict.

Conflict Confidence is a learned skill. It is not a natural talent.

Take the Conflict Confidence Quiz

Three Questions to Consider Before you Speak Assertively

Successful conflict resolution depends on the careful application of several communication and relationship building principles and skills. Frankly, it can be complicated and difficult to do.

One critical skill in the complicated mess of conflict resolution is assertive communication. As I speak, write, coach, and train on the application of assertive communication techniques and strategies, I get many questions related to this topic. One of the most common questions relates to the potential risks of choosing to communicate assertively.

The question takes many forms, but it generally comes down to this:

When is it safe to speak assertively with another person?

This is a great question because it acknowledges the potential risk of confronting another person’s behaviors. The conflict resolution process is full of various kinds of risks. There are usually relational risks. Sometimes there are financial risks. And occasionally there are physical risks.

I understand the risks. I see the risks.  And I have to deal with the risks when I find myself in a real or potential conflict situation. To manage or mitigate these risks, I have developed three questions I ask of myself before I make the choice to communicate assertively.

  1. Is there a way to act assertively that minimizes the risk of retaliation?

    The starting point for mitigating the risk begins with taking a close look inwardly to see if there is a way I can adjust my behaviors to make it safe for the other person to receive what I have to say. With this question, I hope to find a way that I can deliver my message in a non-threatening manner.

  2. Do I trust the other person to respond honorably and without retaliation?

    If the answer to this question is yes, then I proceed with the assertive communication. If the answer is no, then I ask myself the third question.

  3. Am I willing to accept the consequences if they do not?

    This question reveals some additional risks raised by the question: Can Every Conflict Be Resolved? If I am willing to accept the consequences, then I proceed. If I am not willing to accept the consequences, then I look for another path to resolution.

These questions do not address every variable and every situation you might face in working to resolve a conflict. They are pretty good guidelines for making decisions about how to proceed in a conflict situation.