“You worked at the plant for almost 20 years,” a former colleague said. “Is there anything you wish you could go back and do over?”
Looking back I don’t really regret the strategic errors, or poor tactical decisions, or career missteps. I made plenty of those; I was the king of CLMs( Career Limiting Moves.) I certainly regretted those mistakes at the time… but today, nah, not really. At least I learned from most of them.
My real regrets are things I didn’t say to people I worked with, employees who reported to me, and to at least one person I worked for. Those are the moments I’d like to have back because had I spoken I could have made a difference, however small, in some other peoples’ lives. (Apologizing years later, which I have done, is nice — but it doesn’t have nearly the same impact.)
So don’t look back with regret. Say these things now. And don’t say you’re too busy. They won’t take long; for maximum impact they shouldn’t take long. Like George, say what you need to say and then go out on a high note.
I promise it will be time extremely well spent:
“I’m sorry I didn’t…”
We’ve all screwed up, and there are things we need to apologize for: Words. Actions. Omissions. Failing to step up, or step in, or simply be supportive.
So say you’re sorry. And don’t follow up your apology with a disclaimer like, “But I was really upset…” or, “I thought you were…” or any statement that in any way places even the tiniest amount of blame back on the other person.
Say you’re sorry, say why you’re sorry, and take all the blame. No less, no more.
“That was great how you…”
No one receives enough praise. No one.
I failed to tell countless people how well they performed, how awesome they were…
Simply pick someone who did something well and praise them. And feel free to go back in time. Saying, “I was just thinking about how you handled that project last year…” can make just as positive an impact today as it would have then. (Maybe a little more impact, because it shows that a year later you still remember what what they did.)
Also feel free to go outside your functional area: unexpected praise is a gift that costs nothing but is priceless to the recipient.
“Can you help me…?”
One of my biggest regrets is not asking a fellow supervisor for help. I was given the lead on a project he really wanted to helm. To his credit he swallowed his pride (he was senior to me both in tenure and perceived status) and told me he would be happy to help in any way he could.
Even though I could tell he really wanted to help, I never asked: I decided to show people I could handle the project alone. I allowed my ego to be more important than his feelings.
Asking someone for help implicitly recognizes their skills and value. Saying, “Can you help me?” is the same as saying, “You are great at that.”
And there’s a practical bonus: You actually get help.
“Can I help you…?” Then flip it around. In some organizations asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness. Many people naturally hesitate to ask. But everyone needs help.
Don’t just say, “Is there anything I can help you with?” Most people will automatically say, “No, I’m all right.” Be specific. Say, “I’ve got a few minutes… can I help you finish (that)?”
Offer in a way that feels collaborative, not patronizing or gratuitous.
And then actually roll up your sleeves and help.
“I’m sorry I let you down.” I was assigned to lead a project in a different department. It was a project I definitely didn’t want. So I let it slide. I let other people take up my slack while I focused on projects I was more interested in (and, to be honest, were higher profile.)
My manager had stuck his neck out to get me the project so I could get broader exposure but I, well, I didn’t care. Eventually he said, “Everyone knows you’re really busy, so they’ve decided to handle it themselves.”
I felt bad, but I never said, “I know you went out on a limb to help me and boost my career, and I’m really sorry I let you down. I promise it will never happen again.” That one statement would have chased a very large elephant from the room.
The biggest elephants are emotional elephants. Make it up to you, not other people,to chase them away.
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