falling.jpgThere’s an interesting column in the Wall Street Journal today by Jared Sandberg that looks at the mistake conundrum. Do you admit you made a mistake and learn from that. Or do you deny, deny, deny, and even find a fall guy to take the blame?

I know, it’s oh so painful to admit you’re wrong. We all struggle with this, some more than others. But I’m here to tell you a career with no mistakes is probably a boring, not so successful one.

Sandberg uses examples of people who moved up the corporate ladder even though they possessed an extreme inability to say I’m sorry. But based on the many CEOs and top level executives I’ve interviewed over the years, that tactic is the wrong way to go if you want a fulfilling career…and you want to be able to look yourself in the mirror.

In my book, “From the Sandbox to the Corner Office” I ended up devoting a whole chapter to CEO mistakes. Why? Because it was something almost all the 55 CEOs I interviewed had in common. They made boat loads of mistakes, big ones, costly ones, life changing ones.

And you know something, they seemed oddly proud of those mistakes.

One of my favorite mistake stories comes from Terry Lundgren, the CEO of Macy’s:

When his boss was on a buying trip with the rug buyer in India, he called Lundgren to tell him he had come across some beautiful glass bowl chandeliers called Hundis he thought would be perfect for his department. The buyer for Bloomingdale’s which like Bullocks, was part of the Federated Department store chain, was buying the lamps and Lundgren’s boss thought he should purchase them as well.

Lundgren had assumed he was getting a small shipment of the new lamps but ended up with a 40-foot container of glass bowls that had no electrical wiring or mounts to attach the bowls to the wall. It turned out Bloomingdales in New York had access to a manufacturer that was going to convert the bowls into working lights, but Lundgren did not have the same type of low-cost resource on the West Coast to transform his 1000 glass bowls. He did have a local company make about 50 lamps but they were expensive to make and ended up not selling well. As for the remaining 950 glass bowls, “we had to throw them away.”

The debacle ended up costing Lundgren a lot of money, he can’t recall how much, but he realized he should have asked his boss many more questions when he got that initial call. “He was my boss. I was respectful of him. I said, ‘okay, thanks very much.’ They sound interesting. I had no idea what I was getting into. In hindsight neither did he. If I said, ‘send me a photograph and asked him about the electricity,’ even my boss would have realized the issue. You need to be responsible for doing your own research before you make a decision. It was, after all, my department.”

Lundgren told me he learned a lot from all his career faux pas. This particular mistake taught him to “question and research every idea, even if it’s coming from you boss.”

Have you learned from your mistakes? Or are you one of the infallibles?

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]