“How did you think that went?” I asked Nancy with a tinge of sarcasm in my voice.
“Well, it was interesting,” she said diplomatically.
“Come on, tell me,” I implored.
“Well, you kind of sounded a little frustrated,” she said.
“Darn,” I said. “I know.”
We had just gotten off a call with a potential webinar sponsor, and I was pretty sure it hadn’t gone well. The problem was, since I thought we were farther along in the process, I was trying to operationalize something they were still investigating. I was ready to talk topics, dates and speakers, while they were still trying to learn more about our publication and audience. While they probably felt I was rushing them down the aisle, I was just trying to get what I needed to move the program forward.
All of this does not mean, and should not mean, that I had any right to become frustrated. So, of course, I started kicking myself at what had transpired, and the damage I thought I’d done. And I haven’t done so much such kicking since the huff heard around the world a year ago. Now, this is not to say I haven’t made any mistakes in the interim, but there are certain kinds of mistakes that really irk me — the kind that are avoidable, the kind that feel foolish, and the kind that come from not having your game face on when it’s game time. I mean, how long is a call going to last? Usually 30 minutes at most? The fact that I didn’t stay chipper is inexcusable.
But here’s my excuse: I had a bad day. Actually, I didn’t even have a bad day, I just had a bad 20 minutes, although they were the most important 20 of the day from a business perspective.
Later that night, my nurse practitioner wife came home from work and related how a doctor she’s been on great terms with let her have it after she asked him a question (in his defense, my wife admitted it was less than clear). Since they’d had such a great relationship, she was taken aback, but on parsing some of the comments in his angry reply, we were able to find a cause for his frustration — he’d had a bad day.
And herein lies the lesson and the point: the best of us (most of you included) nail it almost every day, and almost all the time. But it’s just as true that the best of us are going to blow it once in a while, in a costly and very avoidable lapse of composure, and it is going to bother the heck out of us, as it should. But the upside of falling down once in a while, especially for leaders, is to remind us that we all make mistakes, and we should be as forgiving of those we lead as of ourselves. This is so important because one of the keys to mitigating a mistake is taking the lesson learned and leaving the rest in the past.
So give yourself some slack when you screw up, and do the same with your team. And, as my wife experienced, don’t forget to extend your colleagues the same courtesy to your CEO, your COO or CFO. They are going to be short with you once in a while and it’s going to be a jolt to your system, but it won’t necessarily mean the problem is systemic. It might just mean they had a bad day.