When Your Error Detection Sends Others Off the Deep End

As leaders, it’s our job to troubleshoot and solve problems. But sometimes this highly developed sense of error detection can go off the deep end.

I think it happens to all of us and I can share an example. One weekend afternoon, back when our kids were young, my husband and I took them swimming at the local pool.

We walked past overflowing trash bins at the entry gate, and the attendants didn’t bother to sign us in, despite the policy. I walked into the changing area and the trash bins were overflowing there too, and the toilets…well, they needed attention. A few of the lifeguards were at their assigned posts, but others were jamming to music, engaged in their own conversation. It was the “jammers’” jobs to keep the restrooms clean, the trash emptied, and to welcome and sign in the members. Arghh!

After our kids jumped in, I turned to my husband Bill and regaled him with a laundry list of all the things that could have been done better. He let me finish and then looked at me calmly and said, “You know, Sweetie, it’s a beautiful day. Our kids are happy. Look at those butterflies. How about if you just focus on the things that are going right, instead of the things that need to be fixed?”

I paused for a moment. I’ve always prided myself on being appreciative, but my “fix-it alert” had definitely been triggered. All I was seeing were the things that needed attention. I decided to take Bill’s advice, turn off my criticism radar, and take in the positive things that were happening around me. I took a long slurp of the iced tea I brought and savored the lemon and the mint on my tongue.   Twenty or so years later, that day with my family remains a cherished memory, even though I didn’t “fix” anything.

One of the most powerful things that we can do as leaders is to notice what is going right — and to reward and appreciate the people responsible for those successes. That doesn’t mean ignoring areas that need to be improved, but it does mean focusing more of our time and energy on our high performers, on the products that are selling, and on all that is working. Usually the greatest opportunities are realized by focusing on what is right and by supporting and enhancing it. All employees, colleagues, and family members flourish when we notice and reward all they are doing that is right.

Tell me your swimming pool story. I know we all have one.

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  • Priscilla Quackenbush

    Good morning, Thank you for your interesting examples of important life principles. Although I agree with your husband’s perspective of focusing on the enjoyable aspects of your day, there is an old Army saying ringing in my head: “When you ignore a standard, you set a new standard”. This simple phrase is especially true if your Soldiers, coworkers, or in this case guests see that you are looking the other way and not making a correction. You have just implied that the acceptable standard is NOT what they were taught to expect, it actually is much lower, or perhaps doesn’t even exist at all. Although as a guest at the pool, it was not your job to correct the infractions, I might have handled it this way: “Good morning! How is your day going so far? Could I please speak with the Lead Lifeguard or manager? I would like to offer my assistance getting the trash taken care of. I notice that the trash cans are flowing over, and I wanted to see if there is something I can do to help get that situation corrected now. Guests need a place to throw away their items, and overflowing trash cans encourage rodents and flies.” In my experience, this often is enough to turn the staff’s attention to an issue that has been overlooked, and they usually will say something along the lines of “thanks, one of the staff is just about to do that.” Should they say this, I conclude with, “Thank you for taking care of that. If you are not able to get to it soon, I will be glad to speak with the manager and offer my assistance”. And of course, the follow-up is just as important. When the issue is properly taken care of, it reinforces the standard to remark “Thank you so much for doing that.” I find that I can actually enjoy “the pool”, or whatever the life situation may be, much more when things are as they should be. Thanks for asking for my story! Have a great day. Sincerely, Priscilla

    • Karen Snyder

      Hi Priscilla,

      You are absolutely right! “What we allow we promote!” That’s what I wrote about just two blogs ago and you certainly caught the differing messages. Thank you for noticing and calling it out and thanks even more for reading the material and commenting. Another sign of your engagement with life and your leadership.

      You would probably appreciate this blog. http://karensnyder.com/does-your-organization-promote-broom-riding/

      I guess what I would say is it’s a balancing act. Some of us need to be more diligent about correcting what is wrong. Others of us need to be more appreciative of what is going right. And we all need to know which way we are perceived. There’s no clear cut answer, which is what makes my work so interesting and rewarding. Every person, every environment and every situation is different. AND, even the day can make a difference.

      Thank you for your leadership and role modeling. I have benefitted greatly from the organizations you have touched!


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