To Err Is Human; To Innovate, Divine

Late last month at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., a much-anticipated NFL matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals left football fans across the country shaking their heads – some in amazement, some in disgust. The game was a defensive masterpiece between division rivals, neither team having scored a single touchdown when it went into overtime tied at six.

For those who don’t follow football, overtime scoring is confusing and merciless. A coin toss determines which team will try first. An opening touchdown wins the game. An opening field goal affords the competing team a chance to score. An unsuccessful scoring attempt followed by a score of any kind by the competition loses the game. The stakes are high and there is zero room for error. Teams rely heavily on their kickers to get the job done. Imagine the pressure.

The Cardinals won the coin toss and began moving downfield. When a touchdown seemed unlikely, kicker Chandler Catanzaro set up for a routine 25-yard field goal. Inconceivably, he missed, the ball boinking off the upright and sailing back onto the field.

The Seahawks had a chance to win with minutes left, moving the ball to within range on the other side of the field. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka set up for the 28-yard attempt. Hauschka, who has career accuracy of almost 90 and is able to kick successfully from more than 50 yards, had not missed a field goal all season. But he missed that one, his face watching the trajectory of the ball as it swung wide, a mirror of heartbreaking anguish.

The overtime clock expired and the game ended in a rare tie. Players left the field stunned, with some defensive linemen hooked up to IVs after playing more than 90 snaps in the desert heat to give their team a chance to win. Within minutes, as was expected of them, the coaches stood separately in front of assembled media to answer questions and help make sense of the evening’s grueling and bizarre efforts. When a reporter asked Cardinals coach Bruce Arians what he planned to say to Catanzaro when they next spoke, Arians didn’t hold back: “Make it. He’s a professional. This ain’t high school, baby. You get paid to make it.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll took a different approach when asked about Hauschka’s state of mind after the game: “Just checked in with him. He’s been making kicks for us for years, and I love him, and he’s our guy.”

Football is just a game, I know, but sports often mirror the triumphs and tribulations of everyday life: The elation of a successful endeavor and the agony of failure rolled into one 60-minute (or 75, in this case) package. Expectations, stress and extreme emotion can bring out the best in us, or the worst, and these coaches demonstrated two very different leadership reactions. Who would you rather work for?

Leaders, how do you handle the mistakes of others?

No one purposefully screws up. We’re not talking about constant mistakes that may reflect a careless attitude or lack of training, which are different issues. Most people have good intentions, and they feel badly when mistakes happen.

When people in your care make mistakes, how do you respond? Do you use it as a coaching opportunity or do you fly off the handle and act like a bully? Your pattern of responding to these issues when they occur often reflects the current foundation of your company’s culture. How is your organization when it comes to taking risks, stretching and growing? If you react badly to a routine mistake, do you really expect your employees to be willing to step outside of their comfort zones?

Take a moment and reflect on how frequently your team members take risks, stretch and try new things. Are they allowed to make mistakes? Having worked in poor, fair and great cultures, I can tell you that great cultures are innovative: Leaders see consistent ideas put forth and are willing to try new things. People at these organizations know they have the support of their leader. They stretch without fear of failing. These organizations are thriving and great places to build a career. Poor cultures rarely see new ideas put forward, and people there rarely do more than what is spelled out and will not stick their neck out for anyone. When they make a mistake, they know they’re on the chopping block and the thought consumes them. These credit unions aren’t going anywhere and it’s hell to work there.

People who love their jobs play better than those who fear their boss.

Why it Matters

Credit union leaders who respond poorly when mistakes are made create very risk-adverse cultures. Employees in these cultures avoid mistakes at all costs and therefore will never stretch and grow. They won’t try new things or innovate and the credit union becomes irrelevant.

Credit union cultures that are not consistently stretching and growing are doomed to fail. These organizations will never innovate or change enough to remain relevant. Persistence and determination prevail. Successful leaders know that persistence always wins.

As Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Catanzaro and Hauschka were back at it during the following week’s game and your employees will be back at it too. Show them that stretching, growing and, yes, mistakes, are all part of the credit union game.