Carlos Gomez, the rookie centerfielder for the Minnesota Twins in 2008, scooped up the ball and threw so hard to second base that the throw ended up being fielded in the dugout by Ron Gardenhire, his manager. So what did Gardenhire do when the rookie returned to the dugout? He asked him to autograph the ball. Gomez “is a kid who plays with a lot of emotion,” Gardenhire told the New York Times, “If I kick him there, I might lose him for the rest of the game.” Gomez appreciated his manager’s gesture, but “knew what he did wrong, and it didn’t affect him the rest of the game.” Indeed not. Gomez later homered.
Pick your moments! That’s what good coaches do when they want to correct a player’s mistake. It is also good advice for anyone in a leadership position. Flying off at the handle when someone makes a mistake might be theatrical but it’s not really practical. It may make the manager feel good to vent, but the effect on the employee may be counter-productive. So the next time your employee makes a mistake, consider three things:
Why did the mistake occur? New employees often make mistakes because they don’t know better; veterans make mistakes because they’re not paying attention. Neither is acceptable. Managers need to make certain their employees know their jobs and keep work relevant for others so that they maintain focus.
How can the employee correct the mistake? If the employee knows he’s made a mistake, just let it sink in. If the manager shows he’s upset, the opportunity to teach is lost. If the employee doesn’t know he’s made a mistake, then let him know sooner than later. Have discussions with the employee about what went wrong and how he will correct things the next time.
How can you turn this mistake into a learning lesson? Sweeping the mistake under the rug increases the likelihood it will happen again; shining light on the problem may illuminate new solutions. One mistake can open the door to dialogue. Invite the employee to discuss her needs for more development. Perhaps she can design an improvement plan. Also, the manager may need to become more involved in the employee’s development, either personally or by assigning another employee to help.
Let’s be realistic. When things go wrong, the manager is responsible regardless of why the mistake happened. So when the mistake occurs, it’s understandable he might be upset. Showing emotion is acceptable. In fact it can be used to make a point. Employees need to know that mistakes can be tolerated but must be fixed; failure to acknowledge them will lead to mediocrity.
Waiting for the heat of the moment to pass allows for reflection, giving the employee time to consider what he’s done and how he can make it better. The manager demonstrates trust and that trust gives the employee the confidence to know he can succeed next time.
First posted on HBR.org 7/24/2008