People try to hide vulnerability at all costs. I find this is especially true for female entrepreneurs. We’re so busy working to manage it all – or at least projecting the appearance that we’re managing it all. But focusing on appearances at the expense of people’s needs is when mistakes happen and resentments build.
Strong leaders know how to own up to their mistakes, learn the lesson, and move on. Doing this can make you feel vulnerable, but by opening up, you can build opportunities to connect with others.
2019 marks fifteen years that I’ve been the owner of Martinez Creative Group. We’ve had many successes over the years – and probably just as many failures. Here, I share three (embarrassing) mistakes I made, and what I hopefully learned:
Keep Your Ego in Check
Long before I started MCG, in my very first job, I worked for a large corporation on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago – and I was a less than stellar employee. One of my tasks was to keep inventory in an Excel doc. Well – I didn’t really want to do that. I was, after all, a designer. I knew this was my responsibility, as my boss reminded me often…and…I simply shrugged it off, week after week, hoping she wouldn’t notice.
There was eventually a round of layoffs and I was shocked to learn a beloved, senior level designer had been let go. I found out later that the decision had come down to either him – or me. And cutting his much larger salary made more sense for the company’s bottom line.
What I Learned
I realized later that my terrible attitude put my job at risk. I only wanted to do my core job and nothing else.
Years later as an employer, I recognized this same attitude in a young designer I hired. I even heard those same dreaded words I had once uttered at the ripe age of 22: “I don’t get paid to do that.” I was able to share with her that in any job, there will likely be tasks that fall outside of your core job description. Recognizing this and doing them makes you a team player: someone who is willing to do what it takes to move the company or client forward. Ignoring these tasks or thinking you’re too good for them can be costly.
Being Too Hands Off
When MCG quickly grew a few years ago and we needed help with our administrative tasks, I hired a company to manage our payroll and retirement accounts. At first, things went well. But it didn’t take long before our pay stubs were full of mistakes, and no number of phone calls or emails could remedy the situation.
To make matters worse, like many businesses, the Affordable Care Act greatly affected our company’s healthcare benefits. We worked with a healthcare services company to change policies, which happened to coincide with when I was away from the office with heavy business travel.
What I Learned
In the end, it didn’t matter that the payroll company was at fault, or that the Affordable Care Act forced our healthcare hand, or even that I was away on important business: the number one thing that matters in a company is its people. I passed these tasks to others when I should have been more hands-on with matters that were very important to our staff.
I fixed the mistakes and apologized to our team for not being more available, but the damage was already done: because I dropped the ball at a critical time, we lost at least one good employee to this trifecta of events.
Taking On Too Much
Back in the digital stone ages when we were just starting with web design, one of our longtime clients needed to redo their website. The freelance developer I hired promised he could get it done, even though he had a full-time job. The project was too big to be managed on a part-time basis and it suffered – and the client wasn’t happy. I regretfully handed the project off to my former agency, and we lost a great client.
What I Learned
At first, I wanted to blame my developer for the problem. But I had to finally admit that the fault was mine: I had hired him. I knew the project was too much to take on at the time, and I should have passed on it or found a better developer.
Not long after this failed project, I met Adam, our lead backend web developer, who, along with his team, now manages all of MCG’s web and mobile projects. In the past fifteen years, web and mobile design grew from an occasional project to about 80% of our business, which is a reflection of both the evolution of technology and our business growth.
Success is wonderful, but you learn more from your failures than you do from your triumphs. Being vulnerable by taking responsibility for your mistakes can be a huge step towards building emotional intelligence. And if we’re lucky, we’ll gain the resilience that can only be acquired through trial and error.
A special thank you to Enterprising Women Magazine for running a version of this article in their Summer 2019 issue! Please click the logo to go to Enterprising Women Magazine: