Momentum Podcast: 90
Protect Your Team From Their Mistakes
by Alex Charfen
Last week, I had massive, overwhelming anxiety. Here's why, I was sick. I was actually sick from before the 1st of July, until about Saturday or Sunday, so over seven days.
Every one of us has made a mistake. If you are like me you have made many, public, avoidable, gruesomely embarrassing mistakes in your life. We all know how it feels, the second you recognize that you did something wrong and it is going to cause a problem…
Your heart jumps into your throat. You instantly feel accelerated. And pressure annoys goes up immediately. This is how you feel, and you are in charge. Imagine what it feels like for a team member when they make a mistake. They feel all those same things, and then the pressure of having someone that holds them accountable.
When someone on my team makes a mistake, or a mistake appears to have happened, I do everything I can to protect my team member from that mistake. This is one of the most valuable leadership strategies I have ever learned.
Full Audio Transcript
I'm Alex Charfen and the Momentum Podcast, made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers, and creators of all kinds, those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will.
We don't accept our destiny. We define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future and, instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we enter the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution and we always will be.
Thanks for being here with me for this episode of the podcast called Protect Your Team From Their Mistakes. This is an absolutely counterintuitive management process, but it's something that, as you shift from transactional management to transformational leadership, you must protect your team from their mistakes. Let's review what transactional and transformational are. Transactional management is when you are telling people on your team what to do, checking that it got done, and telling them what to do again. It is excruciating. It feels like constraint. It makes it hard to have a team. It makes it hard to get people clear on what you really want because we literally are trying to tell people what to do instead of having them help us build the company.
Now, this shift from transactional where you tell people what to do, check if it got done, and tell them what to do again, which, again, will grind you down, the shift is you give people clear outcomes of what you want in your business. You give people clear outcomes of what it is you want from them. Then you coach success as they go forward. Then you give leveraged results. You go from to-do, done, to-do to clear outcomes, coach success, and get leveraged results. That is the way that you totally transform not just your company, not just your business, but your team as well. You, as a leader, will completely and totally transform as you do this because you will be constantly and consistently coaching your team and understand because you're going to want to know what their plan is. You give them a clear outcome and say, "Well, tell me how you're going to get there." Then you can coach their success. This is how you teach people in your organization to duplicate your decision-making. As you grow a business, one of the commodities you must have is that your team can duplicate your decision-making. The more time you spend in transformational leadership, coaching success, the more you show your team, those around you, to duplicate your decision-making. This is how businesses grow fast.
But when you do this, when you give people clear outcomes and you coach success and you get leveraged results, you are going to have mistakes. People are going to make mistakes and it will seem like there's a point and time in your company where it feels like people are making mistakes all the time. Here's what the average entrepreneur does when that happens. When they get into this place where the growth is so high that there's mistakes being made, they get upset. They get frustrated. They get irritated. They start taking it out on their team. I can tell you I did this. Man, it's so painful to admit on a podcast like this, but you know, I've run businesses my whole career that had scaled and grown really fast and I have helped entrepreneurs do the same thing, scale and grow businesses really fast.
The challenge with that is is the faster you're growing your organization, the more headwind that you're creating, the more you're going to break. Like, literally, you are expanding the organization and you're going to find breaks every time you expand. The faster you're growing, the more breaks there are, the more mistakes there are. I just didn't realize this early in my career. I expected everybody to be perfect. I didn't realize that I had to protect my team from their mistakes until maybe, maybe five or six years ago when I had this breakthrough. I was running a team of almost 100 people with Cadey. I realized that people were making mistakes all the time. What was happening was anybody who made a mistake, like I was upset with them. Then usually somebody in leadership was upset with them. If it was a leader, I was upset with the leader. Then what started happening was people weren't telling me what was going on anymore. I wasn't hearing what was happening anymore. You know, I wasn't hearing where the mistakes were. I realized I had to make a dynamic change because I had made people afraid to admit that they made a mistake.
I'd taken it all the way to the other side where, you know, if you're in a business and people won't tell you where the problems are, you become the emperor wearing the new clothes. You know the story of the emperor wearing the new clothes where the tailors, they made him so many different sets of clothes that finally they just left him naked and told him how great it was. Well, if you're in a business and people don't tell you where the breaks are, you're that person who's standing there naked and vulnerable. The most vulnerable person in the room is the entrepreneur in charge. The commodity you have is for people to tell you where the issues are. There's this saying. The stronger the breeze, the stronger the trees because when the wind blows through trees, it often bends and breaks them and trees strengthen at the breaks. Well, companies don't naturally strengthen at the breaks. Companies naturally get worse at the breaks. They fall apart at the breaks. They don't fix the breaks most of the time. That's why so many companies go out of business. When there's a mistake made in your company, when one of your team members has an error, go protect them.
Let me give you a example of a time where I think I did this well. I could give you dozens of examples of the times that I did this horribly and the fallout that it caused. A time that I did this well was I was in my office and it was right around the time we had peak number of team members, around 90. I had my CTO come in and tell me that one of our writers had just sent an unsubscribe email to our entire email list. No, he said he sent an email with the unsubscribe link to entire database. I was like, "Well, who cares? Every email we send out has an unsubscribe link. What do you mean?" He said, "No, all he sent was the unsubscribe link." We sent a email to everyone who was paying us, telling us to unsubscribe from our list. It was horrible.
My instinct that I knew who the writer was, an amazing writer that had done great things for our company, and this was a mistake of we're going very fast and you make a massive mistake like this. I knew he didn't do it on purpose. I knew there was no malintent whatsoever because I knew him. He was part of my team. I jumped up, ran across the building, and went over. I walked into his cubicle. The first thing I said was, "Hey, this could have happened to anybody. Stop beating yourself up. Don't beat yourself up. We'll figure this out," and we did. You know, I've told this story on the podcast before, but it's so important here. This happened like this week. You know, when a mistake comes up, Justin, who helps me with this podcast and makes sure it sounds right and gets it uploaded, this week, we had two days where, for some reason, the podcast didn't upload first thing in the morning. We had to catch it when we got up in the morning. The second day that it happened, I left Justin a voicemail and I was like, "Hey, man. Don't beat yourself up. I know that you probably are. The podcast isn't up. I know you're trying. There's some type of a technical thing." Both times, it's been a technical issue we didn't understand.
I try to respond that way before I know what really happened because I make the assumption that there's no way he did it on purpose. Let's say that it's a really bad, really dumb mistake like really something terrible. Well, I'm not going to get upset about it. I'm not going to beat him up any more than he's beating himself up because here's what happens. When you hire true believers and they make a mistake, they're beating themselves up. The writer who sent the unsubscribe link, he believed in me. I know he did. I felt it all the time. He believed in what we were doing. He believed in our clients. He believed in the mission our company was on. When he sent that email and he figured out what he had done, here's what I know he was feeling. I know he was feeling that he hurt the team and that he hurt our mission and he hurt our clients and he was, you know, beating himself.
Here's how I know he was beating himself up, because I walked over and I said, "Hey, this could have happened to any of us. I don't want you beating yourself up. We're going to figure this out." He turned to me and said, "Are you kidding? I thought I was going to have to resign." I said, "Why would you ever resign over something like this? We are going fast." Our company was number 21 on the Inc 500 list. We were the 21st fastest growing company in the United States. We were doing things that had never been done before. Mistakes are going to happen. I did everything I could to protect him from his mistake. Did this week with Justin everything I could to protect him from his mistake.
Here's what, you know, we don't understand as entrepreneurs, as operators, as the people who we don't report to anyone. We don't understand the pressure and the fear and the pain of having someone that you really want to do well for and having someone that you respect and having someone you believe in, and then doing something where you feel like you've let them down. We all know that feeling, but we don't know the feeling of having it when it's someone in charge of us, someone who judges us because it's part of their position. I think we all have to understand that, for people like us, you've heard me say this before and I always will, when we're running a business, when we're growing the team, if you're shifting from transactional to transformational, you will be seen through a microscope and heard through a megaphone. Your team will really look at what you do and they will behave off of what you do. They will hear everything that you say amplified a million times.
If you plan on working with someone for a while like I did the writer, you know what, I feel like I'm hiding who it is. His name's Ryan Schuhart. He one of the best writers I've ever worked with. He's an incredible entrepreneur and father and husband. I have like a tremendous amount of respect for him. He made a mistake one day. Who cares? What I knew was I wanted to keep working with Ryan. I didn't want him going anywhere. I didn't want anything to happen to our relationship. He had our voice down. He was writing incredible stuff for us. It was, you know, something that I wanted to continue happening. I went over and made sure that what was heard through the megaphone was, "You're okay and there's nothing wrong with you. We're going to fix this and stop beating yourself up." Because when you hire true believers, you don't have to get upset with them. You don't have to yell and scream at them. You just protect them from their mistakes and they will stay true believers and they will lean in harder.
You'll find that when you do this, if you treat your team this way, you will have to tell them to go home. You will have to ask them to leave. You'll have to tell them not to burn out. You'll have to tell them to stop answering emails first thing in the morning because they should get up and go for a walk like you do, because when you allow true believers who are in the right position to make mistakes, here's what happens. You give them clear outcomes, coach success, and you'll leveraged results, but what happens is when they're allowed to make mistakes, when they feel confident that they can try, when they feel confident that they can put themselves at risk, when they feel confident being vulnerable, they're going to go after the outcomes in a completely different way. Whenever a team member makes a mistake, I want you to start seeing if you can make your role to protect that team member from the mistake.
Here's how you walk them out of it. One, you make sure they're okay like I did with Ryan, like, "Ryan, hey. This could have happened to any of us. Do not beat yourself up. Brother, you are fine. We're going to fix this. We'll put customer service making calls. We'll do what we have to do, but it's not a big enough deal for you to beat yourself up over," because the longer he's beating himself up, the less productive he is for us. Let's get right back to it, guys. Two, ask them questions about what happened. We did. It was like, "What happened, Ryan?" We started talking about it. We were doing things really fast. There was a couple things in our system we didn't have a written process for that we were doing all the time. Because there wasn't a process being followed, a mistake was made. One, you make sure that your team member's okay. Two, you ask questions about what happened. Maybe even after, you give them a little time to calm down. Three, you create a process around the mistake or around the break. See, the stronger the breeze, the stronger the trees because trees heal at the breaks naturally.
Now, in a fast growth company, you're creating a strong headwind, that's a strong breeze. The way that you cause a company to heal at the breaks is you let your team make mistakes. You make sure that it's taken care of when they bring it up and you help them walk out of it and you create process around the mistake. Everything in your business will change. We have a saying in our company. If there's a problem, it's the process, not the person. The person who has to use that as a mantra most often is me because I'm like any other entrepreneur. I can flip on a coin. I have a temper. I get upset. I get frustrated. I feel like people aren't taking things seriously. I get annoyed. Then I have to remind myself that people that I work with today believe in my mission just as much as I do.
The people I work with today want to see Cadey and I succeed just as much as we want to. The people who are with us today, the people we work with today are in this with us for the results that we're creating for our clients. I protect them from their mistakes. I make sure that they feel comfortable being vulnerable. I make sure that they know how much it means to me when they tell me that something was wrong. If you're growing a fast growth business, this is the only way to ensure you don't become the emperor walking around naked. Let your team make mistakes. Let them tell you where the challenges are. Your entire business will start to create even more momentum than you thought possible.
If you're an entrepreneur that has a $1+ million business, congratulations, you've made it to where less than 4% of entrepreneurs ever make it. I used to say three but the numbers adjusted. Less than 4% of entrepreneurs, of businesses, ever get to $1 million. If you've gotten there, congratulations. If it's starting to feel like you don't know what to do next or you don't know really how to build the team around you or it's starting to feel like everything's breaking at once and you just want to go back to when it was easier, resist that urge because you've done something that very few entrepreneurs can do and, with the right processes in place and the right support, if you've built $1 million business, you can build a $10 million business. I prove it every day with my clients. If you're in that category of entrepreneur, reach out to us. You can reach out through our website. You can reach out through Facebook. There are very few entrepreneurs out there running $1+ million businesses so contact us directly and we'd love to set up a call with you. Thanks for being here today.