There's a leadership lesson to be learned through each mistake you make as a manager. Over 20+ years, that's certainly been my experience.
This was true in earlier roles as a fitness department manager, later as a general manager, and even as a regional manager.
A key takeaway, before we explore further, is that you're not immune to mistakes no matter your title or years of experience.
The only failure is in not reflecting, learning, and applying newly-acquired knowledge for improved future outcomes.
As a fitness department manager, supporting a team of over 20 personal trainers, it was part of my responsibility to prepare realistic, monthly and mid-month forecasts of:
Interestingly, even years before earning my MBA, I had a love for numbers, financial data, and profit and loss. So, this was right up my alley.
But, as much as I'd gather some information from automated reporting, a human perspective was important. So, I'd turn to my team members in conversation and in their responsibility to deliver, in writing, their estimations or commitments.
Deadlines were a part of this, and I'd been having trouble getting the information needed from several of the staff.
While I'd made attempts to collect this information from a particular personal trainer in conversation, through email, and through text, requests were being ignored, neglected, or forgotten.
At a point of frustration, I called my colleague out publicly, embarrassing them and myself in the process.
It didn't result in acquiring the info needed, and it drove a temporary personal and professional wedge between us.
I'd wanted to address the issue I'd created quickly. However, new to this type of situation, there was a bit of physical avoidance to navigate.
As emotions, on both sides, cooled, we were able to have a conversation in-person.
I took ownership of my actions, apologized for them, and mentioned my commitment to how I'd approach similar situations in the future.
Additionally, I communicated the importance of the information that I needed, and sought feedback on how we could, as a team, effectively share this information moving forward, in a respectful manner and with deadlines in mind.
A large part of this lesson aligns with the praise in public, correct in private philosophy.
Mike Rowley does a marvelous job of expanding on this in his Leadership Skills for Managers article, "Build in Public, Break in Private."
While great leadership lessons were learned, had I approached the issue in private conversation, without distraction or audience, each party might have felt heard, respected, and involved in determining a strategy together.
Later in my career, as a general manager, I'd held responsibility for the support of the fitness and membership sales teams.
Not wanting to be a "my way or the highway" type manager, I involved team members in decision-making.
Sometimes these decisions focused on communication and operational process. Other times, our focus was on in-club marketing assets.
In asking for recommendations on where a particular display of staff bios, monthly promotional information, and other items should be placed in the club, I listened intently to each team member's ideas.
Once they'd finished, I moved quickly to enact my idea.
It was as if I hadn't listened to one word they'd said. I'm glad I didn't cut them off, but you could say the negative result of my action was the same as if I had.
I'd recognized the error of my ways near-instantly.
But, my brain was moving much faster than my mouth was able to at that moment. And so, I wasn't able to articulate an apology or resolution in the way I'd have liked.
Before the end of the shift that day, I met, individually, with each of the team members who'd been in the meeting.
I expressed my apologies, mentioned that their feedback was valuable to me, and that their ideas were valuable to all of our team members and to the members of our club.
Finally, I suggested that the next day we could put their plan into action, together.
Feedback is only valuable if you ask for it, show it's valued, and apply it.
If your team members see you asking for ideas, and they gladly participate, yet see that their contributions aren't valued, their motivation to continue engaging will be short-lived.
That might leave you with your own ideas, but one person can only think of so much and do so much. It's easier, and more fun, to accomplish things together.
Some decisions have higher priority than others. Including my team members in the development of vision and strategy was important. Yet, controlling the decisions of lesser priority did two things:
As a regional manager, I'd been directly responsible for the support of the in-club fitness managers, and indirectly responsible for support of operational and general managers.
Direct and indirect are odd terms when you think about it, as what one team member experiences is going to influence the experience of another, no matter the department.
In this case, a client with a personal training membership had realized that she hadn't been making use of her sessions. Her absence and lack of participation was significant, despite the financial investment that she'd made.
The in-club team had an existing, professional relationship with the member, while I had had no prior interactions with her.
As conversations between the in-club managers and the client turned to the terms and conditions of the agreement, the intensity of the discussion was heightened.
This was especially true as it was communicated that a refund was not an option in consideration.
As I'd learned of the client's mention of pursuing legal recourse, I made the decision to end the conflict in providing a refund without the further obligation of the client.
In acting quickly, I'd removed any opportunity for the management team to practice engaging in difficult conversations, to think critically, to negotiate, or to help in prioritizing the health of the member through the reasons she'd sought professional fitness instruction in the first place.
This one took a bit of time to process.
That particular client's business was lost, and with it our ability to foster their joy of personal training and fitness activity.
My apology to the club's management was quick, and we were able to determine a method of communication moving forward should similar situations present in the future.
Even years later, this particular incident crosses my mind often.
I think about how my own mentors and managers might have handled the situation.
And, while they've each made their own mistakes, I realize how often they allowed me to endure difficult situations, keeping a close eye, yet not throwing me the life preserver right away.
They gave me the time to be resourceful, creative, and to put my professional skill set to use.
You've hired team members for a reason. If you remove their autonomy by doing their work for them, you rob them of their chances to learn, their professional development, and their own sense of purpose in their work.
Be easily accessible, ask good questions, and show patience. You were in their shoes at one point, too.
Those are 3 leadership and management mistakes and lessons that stand out in my mind.
They're 3 of 100s of mistakes that I've made.
I'm a better manager, leader, and teammate today because of each mistake I've made and my commitment to getting better as a result.
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David Bohmiller, MBA, MS (he/him/his)
Founder, CEO and Consulting Executive
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