There’s a fun little song by recording artist Mary Chapin Carpenter called The Bug about how fortune can change quickly, using various funny lines like Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger / Sometimes you’re the ball and One day you’re a diamond and then you’re a stone. It’s a humorous treatment of the human condition and how fleeting glory and success can be.
Sometimes It Rains on Your Parade
There have been times in my career when things went south, sometimes in spectacular way. Once as a captain, I was in charge of a very high visibility construction project for a general officer. I grossly underestimated the amount of time the new air handler would take to manufacturer, and had to go hat-in-hand to the leadership and tell them the general’s “pet project” was going to be 4-6 weeks late. I had a pit in my stomach when I had to call the colonel and tell him the project was going to be late. For the next week I walked around with a little cloud over my head, so much so that one day my secretary put my favorite breakfast tacos on my desk when I arrived to cheer me up.
It wasn’t the first time or the last time I had a disappointing result from a project, and I never “shake it off.” After I get rid of the lump in my stomach for failing short, I have to figure out what to do next.
A Mistake is Only a Lesson if You Learn and Act
The difference between a mistake and a lesson is whether you do two things: reflect and then act on what you learned. Making mistakes once in a while is human – there has been only one perfect Man to walk the earth – so while making mistakes is part of the human condition, it doesn’t mean we have to simply shrug and walk away. We should reflect on what went wrong and do some serious self-critique. After finding the causes, we have to act to either attempt to make things right if we can, and we certainly have to do our dead level best to ensure we don’t repeat it.
Take a Breath and Move On
In the end, we have to move on even after the most catastrophic failures. As leaders, people depend on us to suck it up and move out. No matter how bad it was, we can’t wallow in it nor can we simply shrug it off. We learn from our mistakes, take action to resolve deficiencies, and then move on to the next thing.
Mickey is an expert in leadership and organizational change. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with