Don't Let One Bad Apple Spoil the Bunch

By Penny Macias | June 25, 2015

Life is full of failed experiments and sub-par results. However, what we do with failures is totally up to us as individuals and teams.

While at my first professional job, Jack, my boss, read every one of my reports and recommendations. He'd find my errors, suggest changes, and task me with making improvements. Every assignment I turned in had errors. However, he always expected me to fix them and provide him with the reports he needed.

Jack knew from experience he had to double and triple check my work. He also knew his patience and continued direction was an important factor in my professional development.  When Jack presented his reports, he had confidence in the information contained in them AND he acknowledged his team who made the presentation possible. He was building a team and I didn't even know it. He never let my mistakes spoil his confidence in my abilities. As a result, he created a loyal employee dedicated to improving what was delivered to him.

When I supervised others, they also provided incorrect data or work with errors. However, I handled those times with much less wisdom than Jack did. After about the third wrong report, I'd throw my hands in the air and say, "I can't trust anyone to do this, so I'll do it myself!" And I did.

I stopped asking others for help and started doing everything entirely on my own. By maintaining control, I felt like I could prevent catastrophes. When I went into meetings, I presented data making it clear I'd made it all happen. 

The employees I supervised didn't know what I worked on or how to help me. Every time they offered assistance, I decided bringing them up to speed would be wasted since I couldn't rely on their product anyway. That was fine until my workload gave me no choice but to ask for help. By then there was a problem: I hadn't built a team of people. I hadn't trained them to take my place when I wasn't there, or help each other as a team. They knew I was only asking for help out of necessity, not faith in their abilities. There wasn't much motivation to do an amazing job. I'd woven a really tangled mess that took months to undo in an effort to build a real team. Fortunately, I had Jack to help guide me in that journey.

One, two or even 10 experiences can spoil your perspective if you let it. Nothing and no one is perfect. If you don't trust your team, you might reflect on how you as a leader can improve on that. Your team won't win every game. But group celebrations are so much more fun.

Do you have a supervisor like Jack who you'd like to acknowledge? Let me know if you'd like to write a short article about them for an upcoming column.