Category Archives: Gregory Lay

Making Mistakes Is No Mistake

Take Risks Willingly To Find Learning Opportunities

By Gregory Lay

Gregory Lay“Whattya mean, I’m not making enough mistakes?”

Ron sat dumbfounded at his boss’s desk, wondering if she’d lost her mind.

“Take a breath,” she smiled. “The point is that you’re not reaching your potential because you’re too worried about making mistakes.”

“Of course I try to avoid mistakes. Didn’t you just fire somebody for making too many mistakes?”

“Actually, no. That situation was because the same mistake happened regularly and the employee wouldn’t follow an improvement plan. The difference is that repeating mistakes can get you fired, but learning from mistakes can get you promoted!”

“So how many mistakes am I expected to make?”

“That’s your challenge right there!” exclaimed the boss, laughing. “Stop worrying about the number of mistakes you make. If your mind-set is that somebody is waiting for you to make a mistake, you’re stuck in a self-conscious rut.

“Instead, imagine your customers and your team curious to hear what creative solution you’ll come up with next! The ones that work give you a reputation as an innovator and the ones that don’t work give you a chance to learn and improve.”

“I do have an idea to try out on you to see if…” Ron began, but the boss interrupted.

“Will it help your customers?”

“I think so. If we…” But again, she interrupted.

“Then do it. You know your job; now have confidence to try ideas to improve your job.”

Ron could tell the conversation was over. “Guess I’ve got work to do,” he smiled.

“Good!” the boss replied, holding out a sheet of paper. “Here’s a checklist to help.”

How to Make ‘Smart’ Mistakes

  • Dare Mistakes to Happen: Freezing to avoid mistakes is not growing. Learning comes from listening to helpful feedback and feedback comes when you’re in motion. Mistakes become teachers when we recognize, communicate, and implement course corrections.
  • Consider Values and Objectives: Planning only for immediate challenges leads to frequently having to change shortsighted plans. Weigh ideas against long-range goals and organizational values and be willing to take risks to achieve those worthwhile objectives and values.
  • Don’t Kill an Idea with Research: Begin when you have a reasonable fraction of data you think you need. The rest of the information will come as feedback when you’re in motion; you’re expected to make adjustments as you learn. Standing still to gather the last tidbits of information is indecision and some of the information you’ve gathered may even be outdated by the time you begin.
  • Make Team Decisions: When team members have input into a choice, they’re committed to making their plan succeed. If a mistake looms, they’re committed to making corrections rather than assigning blame.
  • Don’t Ask – Tell: Playing ‘Mother May I?’ wears out your boss and leaves you powerless. Come up with a plan you believe in and report it matter-of-factly with your overall action plan. If the boss has questions, you’ll hear them, but don’t try to make the boss responsible for your plan’s success or failure – that’s your territory.
  • Take Calculate Risk: ‘Safe’ plans have lower learning potential. When you see an opportunity, leap at it! Whether succeeding brilliantly or going ‘splat,’ you’ll have learned what happens when you do that and generated new feedback to enhance your learning. Remember to thank people for their feedback, regardless of whether it was delivered kindly or soaked in vinegar. Then, let people (especially your team) know what you learned and what you’ll do differently next time.
  • Serve Your Customer: Correct decisions and mistakes are each made on behalf of your customer. Let them know how wise and brave they were when risks succeed and how confident they can be with your corrective actions when you notch a magnificent mistake. Any explanations you must make will make sense when you’re in service of your customer.
  • Be Accountable: The game is ‘No blame.’ If a risk turns out to be a mistake, take full accountability and spearhead the effort to correct the outcome and document what you learned. Blame turns mere mistakes into failures and ruined relationships.
  • Share Credit; Take Accountability: When risks pull through with no major mistake, spread credit lavishly, making sure top management hears about the team achievement. Not merely so that others enjoy working with you, but because learning isn’t only from correcting mistakes – people also learn and are inspired by seeing what it looks like when they get credit for mistake-free work.

Risk analysis isn’t about avoiding risk; it’s about identifying obstacles and knowing what you’ll do when problems come up. Having a ‘Plan B’ and even ‘Plan C’ makes it more likely your exploration will carry the twin labels of ‘educational’ and ‘successful!’

Gregory Lay writes and speaks to help people improve their employment without necessarily changing employment. He’s an experienced employee, manager, journalist, speaker, speaking coach, and trainer with a specialty in organizational understanding. To read his complimentary website or request his “52 Career Tips,” go to

How to RELAX During a Crisis

The most important time to engage your relaxation attitude is when you don’t have the time

by Gregory Lay

Gregory Lay“Every day’s a crisis,” Jeff grumped to his car pool after work. “If it isn’t an urgent deadline, then the boss is mad or equipment is on the fritz! I never get to relax, no matter how hard I try!”

From the front seat, Alicia gave a full-throated laugh. “Did you hear yourself? You can’t relax because you’re trying so hard to relax!”

“When you put it that way, it does sound silly,” Jeff admitted. “But it’s true. I know that when we’re stressed, we make more mistakes, but how do you get over the stress?”

Alicia shifted position to make eye contact. “Working under stress is like swimming in a tar pit. Even if you get to the other side, you’re too exhausted to appreciate the achievement.”

“That’s it. I do a good job, but never have time to enjoy the feeling.”

“How do you try to relax?”

“The usual,” he said and ticked off relaxation techniques: breathe deeply; drink water; laugh; music; quiet time; stretch; and go for a walk.

“Good activities,” Alicia nodded. “What do you think about while you do them?”

Silence told her what she needed to know. “Let’s help you relax your attitude as you relax your muscles. I’ll bring you a checklist.”

What Alicia understands is that stress is a choice. The brain must do something in a pressure situation, but it needs a better plan than just tightening muscles. That makes us look stressed and feel tired, even though we don’t realize it’s our own unconscious decision. Trying harder to relax does the opposite of what we need! When we try harder and harder, the job gets … harder and harder!

When Jeff slid into the back seat the next morning, Alicia quietly handed him a folded paper. Opening it, he found five ideas under the heading: R.E.L.A.X.

Re-direct frustration: When a situation, co-workers, or attitudes frustrate you, negative feelings don’t contribute to a solution. Name The Frustration and tell it that it’s now the solution! Energy you were giving to feeling frustrated now goes to feeling motivated! You’re too smart to waste emotions on negativity, so invite better attitudes with encouraging words. By choice, lazy becomes mindful, uncooperative turns into independent, or angry comes out as passionate.

When you see your attitude arrow pointing down, use language skills to rewrite it in a positive direction. This thought exercise will improve physical capacity and relationships with your team. Don’t feed frustration – redirect it.

Expect positivity: When stress reigns, we look at anybody smiling and conclude that they don’t understand the situation. Optimists must be idiots, we say; this is a situation to take seriously. But ‘seriously’ takes more energy than ‘lightly’ and doesn’t move any faster. Expect yourself and others to arrive with a positive attitude and keep it all day!

Expect colleagues to respond to your smile and good attitude with one of their own. They probably won’t at first; frowning and pessimism are powerful habits. But keep expecting the best of them – that’s the positive thing to do – and over time you’ll be an instrument of improvement in many lives. To spread positivity, be positive from the inside out.

Lift a ton: When a ‘ton’ of work weighs you down – start lifting!

Nobody can lift an entire ton, but pretty much anybody can lift five pounds at a time. Measured progress toward a stressful goal takes attention away from the stress and puts it where it belongs: on your ability. Pick up what you can handle right now and carry it where you want it to be. Then go back for another load. You can lift a ton – and instead of being injured by unreasonable expectations, you’ll be strengthened by doing as much as you comfortably can, a little at a time.

People who tie themselves up with stress will urge you to join them in discomfort. Your healthy response is a smile and invitation to help you make reasonable, steady progress as you R.E.L.A.X.

Acknowledge little achievements: When looking at a ton of a task, it may feel strange to celebrate an ounce of achievement. Waiting until the whole ton is done doesn’t provide enough encouragement. Start the applause when the task is begun and keep it going throughout the process.

Recognizing little tasks that have been done well become road signs that guide the team in the right direction. Withholding acknowledgment until you reach a major milestone is limiting the fuel needed to reach that milestone.

X marks the spot: Treasure maps have an ‘X’ to show where treasure is buried. Your treasure is a worthy long-term goal. Everybody on the team knows where we’re going and why. They want to enjoy the journey a step at a time, but the journey has a purpose and anybody who doesn’t keep goals in sight won’t stay focused on productive relaxation.

This is positive leadership. Not showing stress is showing your team how to get the job done without frustrating themselves.

Jeff folded the paper and said, “Cool acronym. I see how a relaxed attitude makes the physical actions more effective. Let’s see if I remember:

Re-direct frowns to your laugh muscle.
Expect positivity, starting with myself.
Lift a ton, a few pounds at a time.
Acknowledge small achievements.
X marks the spot of a worthwhile objective.”

“You’ve got it!” exclaimed Alicia. “Just remember that the most important time to engage your relaxation attitude is exactly when you don’t think you’ve got time for it!”

Gregory Lay edits, a website for people who want to improve their job without necessarily changing employment. He’s an experienced employee, manager, journalist, trainer, speaker, and certified speaking coach. His training specialty is organizational understanding. Contact him at

Boost Your Team’s Performance by ‘People Planning’

Gregory LayBy Gregory Lay

When ‘getting ahead’ on your job means finding ways to strengthen team performance, having a strategy to find ideas to do so is gold.

That was the discussion when Judy met Dan for coffee recently. They’d attended school together and taken jobs in different towns. Nearly three years into their careers, this was their first chance to compare notes. The conversation soon focused on where they were with their respective companies and what it takes to be ‘on the fast track.’

“I’m happy,” Judy admitted. “Just got my third promotion and I’m supervising four people.”

“That’s great,” Dan smiled. Then his voice dropped as he added, “I feel stuck. I’ve applied for several promotions and they tell me I was a finalist each time but didn’t get the job. I volunteer for special projects and try to make creative suggestions – but twice when I’ve been given the go-ahead on a suggestion to management, I got no cooperation and the idea flopped!”

“I see how that would be frustrating. I remember you got all-A’s in Business Planning courses, but maybe you need more People Planning!”

“People Planning, what do you mean?”

Judy continued, “You saw how to ‘fix’ processes and convinced management on your ideas, but you didn’t start with the people actually doing those jobs. Do you think they felt undervalued when you went straight upstairs without asking for their input?”

“Oops. I get it,” conceded Dan,” I didn’t sell the idea to front line people, I took it to the person who doesn’t do the real work.”

“Light bulb! You’re getting there. Ideas are great, but real brilliance is giving ownership of an idea to people who can actually make it work. When the whole team participates in creating a concept, they make sure it succeeds!”

Judy went on to outline several ways of people planning to get buy-in from the people who would implement Dan’s proposals. They are:

  • Find patterns: Correcting mistakes as they’re spotted is a typical tactic, but too often where a single correction seems helpful in the moment; it doesn’t contribute to long-term improvement. Identifying repeated behavior and habits to improve is the key to lasting progress.
  • Observe entire team: Watch group processes and results. Mistaking one person’s actions for a group pattern often leads to false conclusions. Individual performance is the responsibility of each direct supervisor and commenting about on individuals will make you look like a busybody instead of an effectiveness advocate. Remember that documenting people outside of your authority can create an unfriendly work environment for which you could be reprimanded!
  • Focus on positives: When there are positives and negatives, start with the positives and do it in ‘broadcast’ mode, making sure others hear how well their colleague is doing, especially those in authority. People listen better when hearing about what they’re doing right than when being told what’s wrong! Emphasize their triumphs, and then ask how they’d expand on that success so that they find the negatives instead of having them pointed out.
  • Credit those doing the work: Sometimes it takes patience to keep asking questions until others ‘get’ the idea that you’ve been trying to offer. It’s worth the effort to keep trying to hand-off your ideas, because when a team feels like a change is their idea, they make sure it works! Working from the inside, they find even more ways to improve the process. And you’re known as a helpful friend, instead of a critical busybody.

A few days later, Dan found a nice note from Judy in his email, reinforcing his notes from their meeting and adding a few more reminders:

  • No fault: Formulate questions that are curious, not judgmental. When people feel blamed, they become defensive just when the situation calls for creativity and cooperation. The person most likely to be blamed is exactly the person in the best position to suggest and implement a solution.
  • Watch without expectation: An open mind won’t let conclusions arrive before observations. You wouldn’t be observing if you didn’t think there was a solution to be found, but your previously held conception may be exactly what blinds you to new ideas and the opportunity to encourage the person who can make that idea work.
  • Use colors for tracking: It takes practice to start to recognize patterns. Marking events on a calendar using different colors helps quantify areas of behavior and potential solutions. Be conscious of marking team, not individual observations.
  • Review notes often and quickly: New ideas come from new ways of seeing, not from seeing the same thing over and over. Spending more than five minutes reviewing a week’s notes is probably wasteful. You’re not writing a book report, you’re just looking for ideas for discussion with other problem-solvers.

Dan quickly responded to Judy’s email. “These are very helpful. I started over on a project I’d given up on, and am getting some good responses by focusing on what they’re doing right!”

Gregory Lay provides information for people who want to improve their job without necessarily changing employment. He’s an experienced employee, manager, journalist, trainer, speaker, and certified speaking coach with a training specialty in organizational understanding. To read the complimentary website he edits, go to