Own the Failure

Mistakes,. Every one of us will make mistakes as we go through life. Sometimes we make more mistakes. Sometimes we make fewer mistakes. I have made my share of them, I can assure you. Sometimes our mistake is a bad decision. Sometimes they are because of ignorance. Sometimes they are committed because we don’t perform our due diligence. Whatever the reason may be, we will all need to deal with them from time to time.

Back in 2004 I was privileged to work on a US Presidential campaign at a national level. I was responsible for all the mobile devices used during the campaign. I was responsible for tech support, vendor communication, provisioning new devices, getting back old ones, etc. If it had to do with mobile devices, it was my job.

I’ll never forget the biggest mistake I made while I was in this position. It was my first week there, and I was still feeling my way through the processes. One of the principals of the campaign needed a new device. Principal is a word used on a campaign to describe the role of someone. People with important roles are often called principals. I was instructed ahead of time to not let the principal leave with the old phone. I was to get the old phone, port the number to a new carrier, and then give the principal the new phone & some tips on how to use it.

When I met this person they were anxious about turning over their phone. I was asked, “Will my voicemail transfer over to the new phone? If not, I need to get information off of it first” Now, I had been instructed not to let them leave with it because they had been trying to switch out the device for weeks & we didn’t know when we would have another chance to make the swap. So I assured them it would port over. I didn’t know if it would. I thought it should, but I didn’t know. I gave a convenient answer which fit my agenda, instead of doing the right thing. I had the device in my hand & proceeded to make the swap.

It took a few hours for all the pieces to be complete. Once everything was ready to go I checked the voicemail. Nothing. Nothing at all. All the voicemail was gone. I called the vendors. I went up the chain of command for both vendors involved. I couldn’t fix it. You see, apparently, when you move from one provider to another one (this is called poring the phone) the voicemail is deleted in the process & there is no way to recover the data. I had just made a really big mistake, and with a principal nonetheless.

From a big picture perspective, there are two basic ways I could deal with this – 1) I could try to blame it on technology & a technical glitch or 2) I could take responsibility & apologize for making such a mistake. I had already been warned by some friends on the campaign. According to them, this person had already gotten a couple of people fired for sub-par work. So I had a decision to make, and for me, it was an easy decision to make & a tough one to execute. I would take responsibility for my actions. I would embrace the mistake. I would own the failure.

I remember walking to the room where I had to turn the new device over & explain my mistake. I thought to myself along the way, “well, it was a good week even if this is over now”.  To make it an even more exciting moment, I got to have this conversation with them during a meeting with a number of other principals. Great! Everyone will know what kind of work I had done, just great. To be fair, I deserved it, and I knew I deserved it. I made the mistake & needed to live with & learn from it.

When I explained the situation to the principal, they were visibly upset & irritated. After asking me several times if anything could be done & the reality set in the data they needed was indeed gone forever, I explained how it was all my fault & my mistake. I had done & tried everything I could to remedy the issue, all to no avail. I took ownership of the failure.

The most amazing moment happened. The principal looked at me & said, “Oh, no. You are wonderful. Thank you so much for all your hard work & help”. I wish someone could have snapped a picture of my face at that very moment. I was dumbfounded. I was mentally packing my bags to go home, because I knew I was getting fired. The thing is, I wasn’t getting fired. I ended up having a very good run on the campaign & becoming friends with the principal after the fact.

How did this happen? You see, anger loses all its momentum when someone takes ownership of an issue & apologizes for it. We diffuse the situation. We suck the oxygen out of the fire of tempers when we say “yes, I made a mistake”. When we own it.

I think, this is the first time I can remember seeing this in action, but it hasn’t been the last, I assure you. I look for opportunities for ownership – of failure & otherwise. We get better & learn when we fail. Other people see us a human & real. They actually trust us more because – we all make mistakes – but not everybody admits them. Own the failure. Own your mistakes. They are markers on your journey to success.

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