grateful_questionIt is the season for Gratitude. We see it at work, at home and on Facebook; people expressing their gratitude for a multitude of things.

Most often these expressions are for relationships, health, jobs and the like. This year as I thought about the people and things I’m grateful for, an unusual thing crept into my head. I realized that I was grateful for a mistake I made on the job years ago.

I was relatively new at business then and my decision making was still suspect at best. There was a situation in which I terminated someone’s employment rather hastily. It was one of those decisions that, as I think back, was a clear mistake. It was a decision made quickly out of anger… and it was wrong.

Why am I grateful for the mistake you might ask. I am grateful because I learned valuable lessons from this mistake. In the years to come the sting it left in my stomach reminded me of all of the things I should have done in that situation. I should have taken more time to investigate; I should have asked more questions, I should have prayed about it. I didn’t do any of those things I just sent someone packing with no warning.

Sometimes as leaders we must terminate an employee. It is often in that person’s and the organization’s best interest to let them go somewhere else. As leaders we need to be able to do that when it’s justified. But there are other times the employee needs some coaching, some time, or a different type of discipline, as was the case with this employee.

Now when faced with a termination I think about three things I learned from my mistake:

1. Take the time necessary to make the right decision

Peter Drucker advised executives to make decisions quickly, except the people decisions. Getting people decisions right is crucial to the success of the organization and the success of the person. Take the time to do the homework necessary to make a good one.

2. Allow the emotion to dissipate before deciding.

Sometimes we can’t see a situation clearly because of all the emotion involved. Allowing the emotion to subside sets the stage for clearer thinking.

3. Get outside perspective

For me, seeking wise counsel about a people decision always gets me thinking about what’s right and not just about what I want. Sometimes I want to keep someone when the right thing is to help him or her find what’s next. And sometimes, like in my story, I just want to terminate someone out of anger or frustration when what they need is some coaching and time. Getting an outside perspective helps me settle on what the right thing to do is. When I feel strongly that I’m doing the right thing it makes the difficult process a little easier.

I still make mistakes I regret as a leader. But sometimes the only way we learn is through the consequences of a mistake and for that I really am grateful.