A personal story about how a leader can empower others.
Early in my days with American Name Services, I wore many hats and mostly focused my attention on preparing for upcoming trade shows, helping to promote our managed properties and assisting in client services when needed. When the account rep for our largest client planned a vacation, she trained me on the process of running a set of orders so I could fill them in her absence. Having done the work before, but on a much smaller scale, I was confident that I would be able to complete the task without too much difficulty.
I placed the orders and received the data promptly. When the account rep returned, I showed her my work, and all seemed well. It wasn’t until a week or so later that the data processing team noticed an error. We were missing data for many markets. Somehow, I failed to order all of the data for specific geographical areas. I felt horrible. I was so confident that I had done everything according to the detailed notes I took during training. How could I make such a large and costly mistake?
As I scrambled to figure out how I made such an error, I worried about my standing in the company. I had never made a mistake of this magnitude, and this was our largest client. I did locate the error I made. When it came time to copy and paste the list of areas we needed to order, I neglected to scroll all the way to the bottom of the spreadsheet. I didn’t notice that what I saw on the screen was not all there was, thus leaving out a handful of areas.
I approached the account rep, who happened to also by my direct supervisor, and explained how the mistake was made. She said they were taking care of it. I then approached the owner of the company (in these days we were a rather small company with about ten employees so talking to the owner was an everyday thing). I explained my mistake, and I asked how I could help to rectify the situation. I will never forget how she handled what could have been a very negative situation. She told me, “We’ve come up with a solution, these are growing pains. I am sure you’ll learn from this and processes will be improved.”
Was she happy about my mistake? Of course not, it cost the company time and money. But she chose to empower me rather than to criticize or condemn me. What she said showed me she understood that mistakes would be made. Although not always welcomed, she knew that they would provide opportunities for growth.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself in a similar situation, but in reverse. I was now managing an employee who had made a rather large mistake. As soon as the employee came to me, I remembered my experience and refrained from criticizing and condemning. Instead, I offered this employee the opportunity to learn and grow from the mistake. We brainstormed an acceptable solution to the problem. Again, it cost us time and money, but the mistake was never repeated.
I am grateful for the experience I gained early on. It has been a lasting reminder to me to take a step back, when mistakes are made, and consider the person and how I can empower them to improve. I’m also grateful for a compassionate and patient leader who understands that training up other leaders will mean occasional growing pains, mistakes, and setbacks. Bill Gates said, “Leaders are those who empower others.” I am glad that I have been guided by a true leader.
Who is a leader in your life that has empowered and mentored you through your growing pains?