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Some people believe the only way to grow is to learn from your mistakes, but why not make it easier on yourself and also learn from the mistakes of others?

Below are five of the biggest management stuff-ups and what you, as a leader, can learn from to ensure you don’t repeat history.

Think of others

“There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

You may remember when these words were uttered by now former CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, after the April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which killed 11 workers, contaminated hundreds of kilometres of coastline, destroyed countless people’s livelihoods and threatened more than 600 animal species, some of them rare or endangered.

As a leader in a time of crisis Mr Hayward needed to show empathy and understanding towards those affected by the disaster.

While you may not be in the same position as Mr Hayward – being stalked by the media and having your words broadcast to millions of people around the world – leaders need to understand empathy and how to use it effectively.

Having empathy means a leader will be attuned to the emotional signals of their team so they can understand other’s perspectives and make employees feel as though they are a valued member of the team. This can lead to greater engagement in the workplace, increasing efficiency levels.

Remember your manners

In July this year, News Corporation was rocked by the phone hacking scandal in which News of the World staff were accused of hacking phones, including that of a murdered teenage girl.

CEO Rupert Murdoch took almost two weeks to apologise for the scandal and said he was “humbled and ashamed” but would accept no personal responsibility for the scandal and believed he was “only at fault for trusting the wrong people”.

As a CEO you need to be able to take responsibility. Mr Murdoch made a terrible situation worse by refusing to immediately say sorry to the people affected.

When you take the position of CEO, you take onboard the responsibility of your organisation and if you aren’t willing to shoulder this, you shouldn’t be in the top spot. The job of CEO comes with privileges but also comes with many responsibilities which shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Don’t be too big for your boots

In 2008 former Federal MP Belinda Neal was accused of saying “Don’t you know who I am?” to wait staff at a restaurant.   The story quickly spread through media outlets, ruining her reputation and ultimately adding to the demise of her political career.

As a leader you can never put yourself above others. Even the most junior member of staff is important and brings their own value to the company.  The leader can never forget that they could not do their job without their employees. The Australian public is quick to cut down those who see themselves as better than others.

Never break a promise

After promising, during the election, there would be no carbon tax, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has proposed one this year, to the outrage of many members of the Australian public.

As a leader we should not make promises we cannot keep. Employees and the public lose faith and trust in organisations that break promises, leading to a breakdown in the relationship.

If you break one promise, no matter how small it may seem to you, it can affect your relationship with employees and customers for a long period of time. Trust is an integral part of being an effective leader.

Don’t be afraid to admit there is a problem

In 1998 Bridgestone began receiving complaints about Firestone tyres treads’ tendency to separate, often resulting in accidents, some fatal.

The company refused to admit there was a problem until 2000, when an investigation was launched. Soon after 6.5 million tyres were recalled, the second-largest recall in U.S. history.

Never be afraid to admit to a problem; it is the best course of action. If you prolong the issue it may build further, causing greater damage to your organisation in the long term.

If Bridgestone had admitted to the problem early on they could have saved lives, reputation and money. While the company would have had to face down a number of consequences by admitting there was a problem at the outset, by denying it the problem only worsened.

Even if you, or your company, aren’t as high profile as these examples, the lessons learnt here can be used by anyone, in any sized company.  At the end of the day, it’s about thinking before you speak, treating others how you would like to be treated and being honest and accountable for your actions.

– Julie Parkinson is Client Services Director at the Institute of Executive Coaching.

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