Mistakes: The Stepping Stones to Leadership Greatness

Story: Zen Master and Thief (Source: Google Baba)

There was once a very popular Zen Master, due to his virtue and his skillful delivery of talk. There happened to be a thief among his fellows. This person would steal things once in a while. Whenever he was caught, the Zen Master would counsel him & then ask his fellows to forgive him.

This went on for a while until the fellows got sick of this thief. On one particular day, a leader, representing the fellows, issued a petition to the Zen Master. Either he expels the thief or the entire team of his fellows would leave. The Zen Master answered, “Then all of you, please leave”. He then explained to the shocked crowd, “All of you know that stealing is wrong, but he doesn’t. If I don’t teach him, who will? This man needs my guidance and my love more than any one of you. If I have to lose all of you to keep him, let this be the case”.

The thief was so touched by this that he started to cry. From that day on, he never stole again.

Leadership has a different meaning. There are different ways by which we can define a leader. There are also many ways by which we can differentiate between a leader and a manager.

One very important aspect of a leader (as also stated in the above story) is trust. How much does the team trust their leader and can they fall back on the leader whenever they need any support? Similarly, how much a leader trusts their team.

Often it is seen that whenever an employee commits any mistake (knowingly or unknowingly), he or she will try to conceal it from others, especially the boss. Why does it happen? Someone has committed a mistake. Why there is a need to hide it from others? The only reason why it happens is the feeling of being considered a failure and being targeted for committing an error.

While the logical consequence should have been that if I have committed a mistake, I should have the confidence to go to my manager and share it with honesty. I should learn from my faults and try to avoid them in future. Even if the mistake is repeated, I should be able to report it with confidence to my manager and try to find possible solutions so that it does not repeat.

But when it will happen when I can feel confident rather than having a victim feeling. The leader has a very important role to play here wherein leader should be able to give the confidence to their team that they can commit mistakes and still feel confident about themselves (like the recent transformation in the Indian Men’s Cricket team wherein even if someone drops a catch or do misfielding, the guy will just smile and go back to his position and everyone will clap for his efforts).

In one of the videos, Simon Sinek was sharing his personal experience at a hotel in Las Vegas, wherein an attendant was smiling and reflecting on his confidence. When Simon asked the reason, he said that his bosses always care for him and periodically ask him about any concerns and what more they can do. Then the same attendant also shared his experience in another hotel, wherein he was always worried about his job and performance as the bosses were always focusing on the mistakes that anyone had made and questioning why it happened. In that hotel, the same attendant just tried to make sure that he did not commit any mistake!

Does it mean that a good leader does not mind if people are committing repeated mistakes, the answer is No. But the way we look into the problem and the way we deal with it makes the entire difference.

Once Dr Abdul Kalam shared his experience about his failure in 1979 (he was the project leader) when the SLV (Satellite Launch Vehicle) III Satellite failed to take off. At that time, Prof Satish Dhawan (Chairman of ISRO) took ownership of the failure in front of everyone. The next year when SLV III Satellite was a success, at that time Prof Satish Dhawan asked Dr Abdul Kalam to lead the press conference and take the credit for success.

Summary: When you stand up for people, you show that you’re “on their side” when they need help. This builds long-term loyalty, trust, credibility, commitment, and morale in your team, and it gives your people a confidence boost. You will become a leader worth following.

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