Three Lessons From Some of My Biggest Mistakes

Recently someone said to me that I couldn’t relate with business executives because I’m not “in the business world anymore.”

My natural reaction was to laugh.

I refrained.

My response was, “I’m curious why you think I’m not in the business world.”

The woman responded, “Well, you left corporate America to open your own business.”

“Yes…” I replied.

“So how would you know what it is like to be in management – you’re not in management,” she concluded.

I paused, took a deep breath, and smiled.

I own my own company and manage the staff… but other than that…

The next 3 minutes or so was a very brief tour of my professional life which started at the age of 12 when I began running teleprompter and writing news copy for a television station and ran my own babysitting service in my neighborhood to keep up with the demand for requests I received.

I went on to manage news crews and whole staffs – I’ve been in management a long time.

For a long time, I was a terrible manager.

Thanks to the people in my life who were not terrible managers, I was able to become a great one.

Now my life’s work is to help people become great managers, help great managers be even better, and become really incredible team leaders or bosses.

Through my biggest mistakes, I learned the best lessons.

Here are some of my top highlights:

  1. Be humble.

    I started out early in the professional world. When I was in school for my undergrad I already had the job many of my class peers would want after graduating.

    The chip on my shoulder was so big that I’m shocked it didn’t cause permanent physical damage.

    That chip on my shoulder did, however, prevent me from moving up even faster and taking really great people with me.

    I’m eternally grateful for the terrific managers I had who saw my potential and recognized this fault.

    They brought it to my attention in ways that would really speak to me as a person.

    They were loving and made sure that for every piece of hard-truth feedback they gave me, I also received encouragement about my strengths.

    They related to me on a business level and brought it home emotionally as well.

    They showed me that business is not personal, but since people are in business, everything can be personal.

    They also showed me that if you really are great you don’t have to tell anyone that you are; they’ll experience it for themselves.

    This was probably the worst part of my lack of humility: I was more than happy to tell everybody how awesome I was.

    Oh, goodness. People like that make my skin crawl!

    If you’re great… GREAT!

    Let your greatness shine through in your work product, the way you treat others, and the way you treat yourself.

  2. Don’t fix it.

    This is the lesson that brought me into coaching.

    My mentor, Jim, is the first coach I ever had. I didn’t even realize I had one, but there he was – coaching.

    He practiced coach-approach management and through his influence in my life over the last 20+ years has shown me that fixing things for your employees is unfair to both of you.

    To the manager, it makes you work longer and harder than is necessary, and that usually means you’re neglecting different areas of your life (usually self-care).

    Though the manager is well-intentioned, he’s actually crippling the employee from his own personal growth journey.

    If you’re fixing, you’re not teaching.

    If you’re fixing, you’re not coaching.

    Part of my journey now is to make sure that there’s a little bit of “coach” in every manager.

    Before I learned the downside of fixing, I was a fixer.

    It made me frustrated, and in my frustration, I lost sight of the people in the situation and only saw the situation.

    That caused an impersonal interaction, which made the people feel unhappy and lowered morale extensively.

    By fixing their mistakes, I was unintentionally causing people to allow feelings of worthlessness and stupidity to grow.

    That wasn’t my point at all.

    What I thought I was doing was exhibiting accuracy and teaching.

    But I wasn’t. I was just re-doing their work.

    One sign that you may be fixing is if you’re taking someone else’s work and re-doing, extensively adding to, or significantly altering it before it is finalized.

    Instead, consider working together on a peer-to-peer level to do it together.

    This empowers the employee to improve, and that will free you up to not have to fix anymore, as the work will be done more to your satisfaction in the future.

    The difficult thing here is that fixing seems like the fast solution, and in the short-term, I suppose you are correct.

    In the long-term though, you’ll have to keep fixing over and over again… so looking at it in this perspective it’s the worst choice available to you.

  3. Meet people where they are.

    This is something I learned in the news world.

    There’s a thing in news writing called the “Holiday Inn Theory.”

    This means that if someone is traveling and they happen to turn on your local newscast while staying in a hotel they should be able to completely comprehend your story without prior reference.

    It’s very important.

    It means that if you have a developing story that’s been going on for a while, you have the added challenge of not starting at the beginning for all the people who’ve been with you through all of the developments while at the same time summarizing progress to this point in an effective way so that other people without a point of reference are not completely lost.

    This practice can be applied to your life quite easily.

    You have to meet people where they are.

    Incorporating thorough communication with a realization that all people have a natural need to feel heard and understood, you can effectively meet people where they are.

    This takes a little effort for you to slow down and realize everyone does not have your point of reference, and each individual will have a different speed at which they are capable of taking in information and performing.

    That mentor of mine, Jim, once laughingly told me “J.J. (that’s my nickname), you do not suffer fools well.”

    That means that I was not meeting people where they are.

    That means that I was being judgmental and was allowing my frustration to show through.

    By doing that I was alienating people on my team instead of bringing the team together.

    I was a terrible manager being coached by one of the most effective managers I’ve had the honor of knowing.


I hope these lessons can help you implement changes in the areas of your life where you have the opportunity for growth.

The one string that binds all of those lessons together is that I wouldn’t have been able to see any of these things and get past my own ego to apply them in my life if it hadn’t been for the loving managers and coaches who guided me along.

Everyone needs a coach – this coach included (and I have a couple!)

I may not be the coach for you, but I’d love to find out if I can point you in the right direction with a free session. Take it – it’s free, and you never know how it could improve your life.

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