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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Avoiding the Unforced Error

The Unforced Error

We all make them. Ethics breaches and scandals and performance-related turnover are increasingly found in today’s headlines. As in tennis, the unforced error is made by someone with the ability to keep the ball in play but who makes a mistake, resulting in the loss of a point. To improve your game you need to develop the habits that will help you keep the ball in play. It is your performance over time—a steady game—that will get you where you want to go. That’s what The Unforced Error: Why Some Managers Get Promoted While Others Get Eliminated by Jeffrey Krames aims to help you do.

The most dangerous errors—and the one discussed in this book—are “the ones we don’t recognise, so we can’t fix them before the damage is done.” Krames divides unforced errors into two groups: the unforced operating error (the ones we all make in the course of doing our job; a bad call) and the unforced nonoperating error (errors not directly related to the conducting of business, but can shatter a career nonetheless - errors of character). Krames writes, “There are seldom excuses for unforced nonoperating errors. You have to have the awareness, self-control, and maturity to avoid them.” The focus of this book is the former kind, the unforced operating error.

There is a key to avoiding unforced errors. Not surprisingly, the key is humility. “That’s because humility—one of the most underrated of all leadership qualities—is essential to developing the strength and consistency to avoid unforced errors.” It’s the kind of humility that comes from having the self-confidence to admit mistakes, blind spots and then move on to correct the mistake. Rarely would you be told that you were fired due to a lack of humility, but it is the trigger for so many unforced errors. Krames successfully helps you to recognise an unforced error when you see it. In each chapter that covers a specific unforced error, he offers sensible and pragmatic advice on how to avoid these “career killers.” His advice includes:
  • Never say the ball was out by a mile. Face reality at all times.
  • Nothing is as important as people decisions. Get the right people.
  • When you do make a people mistake, fix it as quickly as possible.
  • Don’t overlook the wild card. Develop the next generation of leaders.
  • Keep your game inbounds. Living and leading by the rules.
  • Step up to the net. Take ownership of your part of the court.
  • Watch the whole court. Find out who the real line judge is in your game and make sure they know how you’re doing.
Krames is very readable as always. The tennis metaphor works well to demonstrate the importance of these ideas. If you take the time to study the advice Kramer has gathered together, you could save yourself from committing these errors. In the words of Billie Jean King, “Self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.” 

Leadership Lessons for the New Year

Always focus on the mission.

To be a great leader, you have to be intensely focused on the core mission of your organisation: know it, understand it, and live it. Make sure everyone in your organisation can answer these questions: Who are we? What do we do? Whom do we serve? At the end of the day, the mission is the true North Star that guides every action you take.