Executive Insights | February 2011 | By Guest Author

Execs are Human, Too

How to course correct after critical errors.

Michael Lippert of Captain D’s says executives can fix costly mistakes.
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Michael Lippert is the newly appointed executive vice president of operations for Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen. As an industry veteran he knows that the time a leader initially joins an organization is exceptionally crucial to his success there. But it’s also the point when many basic mistakes are made. Lippert explains how most leaders usually fail—and how they can avoid doing so.

What are common critical errors leaders make?

There are two major issues leaders run into. The first is approaching the business by being assumptive and with preconceived notions. Often, leaders assume they know exactly what the business opportunities are or where to begin and they do so without having clearly immersed themselves in the business of the people and the organization’s culture.

The second one is making decisions without information and data that’s grounded in consumer insights. They need to have knowledge of the internal organization, then they need the data, which is the external part, before they move forward in make decisions.

How long does it take executives to get up to speed at new organizations?

It’s different for every executive and that’s going to go back to style. From my perspective, 60–90 days is a good time frame to fully immerse yourself in the business and develop a foundation of understanding before moving forward with any major initiatives.

Do executives make mistakes more often when it comes to certain areas, like growth, for example?

It depends on the financial requirements and obligations a leader walks into the organization with. If there’s a new ownership group involved in the organization, they certainly did forecasting and made projections against growth or against improvement of the existing business. The mistakes are usually going to be outcroppings of those assumptions that were made in the diligence process.

Where should the data leaders study initially come from?

In most cases it would be consumer insights from external sources, talking about what our customers are requiring, be it the customers or the lapsed nonusers. That data is combined with internal analysis, which is everything from financial analysis [and] marketing to the people at the organization.

When leaders make mistakes, how should they course correct?

We’ll assume that the leader will identify that the mistake was made. As it goes with any mistake, what you want to do is immediately accept responsibility to establish a culture of accountability within the organization. You do that by stepping up and taking personal responsibility. You want to offer a post-mortem on what the mistake was and the factors that went into that mistake. Then you need to replan and move forward, or in some cases you may not need to move forward but simply let it go by the wayside and move on.

Is there a risk of losing your colleagues’ confidence when admitting mistakes?

It all goes back to the leadership style. If we step back and approach how a leader should be approaching the business and establish some groundwork before having to accept responsibility for a mistake, they will not lose confidence.

Let me talk a little bit about the qualities a leader should be approaching the business with. That will help establish why they can easily accept responsibility for a mistake.

What are those qualities?

There are three that are absolutely at the top of the list. The first one is a high degree of integrity. Leaders are assumed and expected to have a high degree of integrity. But what’s key is to quickly establish trust, which can only come from open and up-front communication—whether formal or informal. Although it should be two-way, it needs to start with more listening. There needs to be lots of listening and understanding on the leader’s part before responding and acting. That listening needs to be grounded in integrity to establish trust.

Being a leader is a humbling endeavor.

The second is resiliency. If a leader can execute the first quality and build trust, there will be a flow of communication and, as a result, the leader is going to need to make adjustments along the way. That’s where the flexibility comes in. Resiliency comes in because it is an ongoing and fluid process. The greater the level of trust and communication early on, the leader will need to adapt and change. So resiliency will be needed.

The third is that leaders need to have humility. Being a leader is a humbling endeavor, and it’s OK to be human. If the leader approaches the business with those three qualities and makes a mistake, he can admit mistakes without losing the respect of his colleagues.

When mistakes are made, how should they be communicated to colleagues?

That really depends on the mistake. If it was made within the leadership group of the organization, it should be done one-on-one with the individuals involved. If we’re talking about a changing of direction because of a mistake, you still want to communicate directly with as many people as possible. That can be done via a webinar or in person, if there’s an opportunity to reach a large portion of the organization. But it really should be followed up with a written communication. It’s all going to depend on the scope of the mistake that you’re course correcting for.