The Union Club of Cleveland’s Lawrence McFadden, CMC, GM/COO, discussed the important consequences of being wrong.
In Dr. Brian Goldman’s podcast, The Dose, he stunned listeners with an honest assessment of professional mistakes. He shared the shame associated with each experience and explained how mistakes are never received positively.
In Kathryn Schulz’s Ted Talk On Being Wrong, she discusses the many mental and culturalal challenges associated with being wrong. She describes how children are penalized in school for being wrong on tests and how that drives them to become perfect little A+ students who are never wrong.
We learn that mistakes come with consequences. We do not often celebrate or embrace our mistakes without shame, perceived repercussions or alienation.
With Ritz Carlton’s total quality management philosophy, we were required to document our mistakes. Contrary to everything that we’ve taught about making mistakes, Ritz Carlton often rewarded the departments with the most documented defects each month.
This methodology was rooted in the notion that mistakes cannot be fix if an organization is unaware of them and implements a process to minimize them going forward. The self-identification within this process conflicts with our cultural upbringing, especially for new staff members.
In culinary, we often joke saying, “Thank God it’s not brain surgery,” when a dish comes back to the kitchen. This missive speaks directly to the previous misconception that a doctor must never make a mistake.
Mistakes can actually be very positive and a lot can be learned from them. But the shame, lack of trust and self-guilt while assessing the damage from the mistake can be deeply harmful to the process. We often document who is to blame for a mistake and what the consequences will be even when we experience colossal missteps by legends, mentors and loved ones. Society has limited tolerance for mistakes.
Mistakes can be categorized as monetary, emotional, ethical, moral, and even physical.
Over the past few years, I have tried to make amends with customers, vendors, and colleagues who might have been impacted by my leadership mistakes. These conversations have been rich, honest, often soul-satisfying and have always lead me to a better understanding of myself and the people I’ve worked with.
Mistakes are a key part of my professional vision. I’m never worried if the risk is reasonable. When mistakes impact staff or members often I circle back for clarification and to off an apology if necessary.
My mistakes have shaped a certain perception of me. On her first day, our Director of Food and Beverage, who had worked for one of my previous culinarians, said, “Mr. McFadden, you can yell at me if you would like.” Her comments sent chills down my spine and caused me to mentally crawl back into a painful existence of immaturity.
These thoughts should not define my reputation. But left unchecked, they can follow, haunt, and ultimately distract me from growth. They can be roadblocks to future opportunities if they are ignored.
Years ago, a customer told me, “Lawrence, you can’t talk to me like a meat vendor.” He must have felt my tone as Hotel Manager did not fit his expectation of the position. His comments certainly left an impression and I adjusted my approach so that I used more empathy in all future customer interactions.
Earlier this year, our food and beverage team put together a new restaurant concept. I asked them to purchase one chair, sit in it, and place it against the table for size and clearance. One of the managers asked, “Mr. Mc Fadden, how do you know to ask these questions?”
In 2008, I purchased $40k worth of beautiful patio chairs. They were comfortable and elegant. Once on property, we discovered they were too high and our customers’ legs dangled. They did not fit around the table. That mistake taught me to always place my backside in each chair and to experience the customer’s perspective and to measure the darn things first.
In 1999, I purchased a $25k wood-burning pizza oven for our pool area at the hotel. The week it arrived, I was transferred as Executive Chef to Naples, and the staff was unaware of my vision. It sat like a pink elephant for three years on the loading dock waiting for that document. The lesson in that mistake: Create a visionary plan and successfully communicate that strategy to others. Also, get the buy-in for your plan.
In 2009, I purchased freshly cut cypress stumps at a bar on the ocean. They were truly beautiful creations. They were unique, sexy, and unbelievably comfortable. The only issue was that they each weighed two hundred pounds. This rendered them useless for customer gatherings. The lesson in that mistake: Do not create a temple for yourself. Always ensure a customer-friendly experience?
My culinary mistakes were just as abundant. The most memorable comes from the stacked food era. Each dish was assembled like a priceless piece of art safely residing in the kitchen.
In the hands of waitstaff, these stacks turned into Leaning Towers of Pisa of piles of shame on customers’ plates. The lesson in this mistake came from one of Marco Pierre White’s Google Talks where he asks, “Do you ever eat your own food like the customer? And if you do, does it look as good at the last bite as it did at the first?”
These examples are mistakes that will happen. It’s our job as a leader to create an environment where we learn from these mistakes. Intensity and creativity only increase the potential of mistakes, but understanding the risk brings future excellence.
Without mistakes, there is no wisdom. Failing is part of any educational journey.
Working with me is difficult. Excellence is still demanded. All senior leaders are required to make their own decisions. Learning is the privilege of making a mistake through ownership of your own decision.