Mistakes I’ve Made: What My Son Taught Me

Mistakes Image Jim Lawton_0“Father knows best” goes the old saying. After all, fathers – and mothers – are older, and the corollary then is also wiser. We’ve seen more, done more, and know more. We have our children’s best interests at heart, and the decisions we make for them are designed to help them achieve all that is possible.

But sometimes we make mistakes. Big ones. And the lessons we learn have relevance in nearly every aspect of our lives. That’s what happened to me when my son entered 7th grade and his experience was not what my wife and I had envisioned. Our son is smart, hardworking, and has that native curiosity that shapes a life-long thirst for learning, all the while thinking about the world in different and profound ways. But something wasn’t working. There were a lot of little things that ultimately added up – at least in our minds – to warning signs that the school he attended wasn’t the right one for him. So, my wife and I set out to find something different. We talked to other parents, did our homework on all the options, made a short list of those we felt would be the “right” fit, and set out on the interview circuit. It wasn’t until one interview, when asked why he wanted to attend this particular school and our son honestly replied that he wasn’t sure he did, that we realized we’d left out the most important part of the process: engaging the one person most affected by the change and getting his input on what was really going on and what would be the best solution. So we went back to the drawing board – this time with our son at every step. Regardless of the outcome, the result will be exactly what it should be – best for him.

I see this same mistake all the time in business. As leaders, we’ve seen more, done more, and know more. When we identify a new initiative or strategy to help our organization be the best it can be we, too often, lose sight of those who are in the best position to help us get there. Excluding those who understand and know the process, product, and environment where we are trying to make the change only results in delays, missteps and sometimes flat-out failure.

The mistake I made with my son’s education reinforced for me in a very clear and loud way the principles I believe are essential for successfully driving changes –large and small:

  • Understand who will be affected by the change and how it will affect them
  • Engage them at the earliest possible moment
  • Solicit their input not only on the piece of the process that they own, but on the whole effort
  • Use their experience to set goals, milestones, and measures of success
  • Empower them as champions of the effort to their peer groups
  • Provide continuous feedback on where and how their input is being applied – and if not, why not

We’re smart. What we have to remember is that by our own design, the people we work with are smart, too. Engaging them in our vision, and harnessing their knowledge to make it succeed only gets us where we all are headed – to being the very best we can be – that much faster.

Originally published on Beet Fusion.