Turning Bad News into Building Blocks: Cultivating a Culture Where Mistakes Fuel Growth

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Embracing Imperfections and Learning from Mistakes: A Leadership Insight from the 2022 AME Annual Conference…

In a riveting conversation between Larry Culp (at the time, CEO of GE and now CEO of GE Aerospace) and my good friend Katie Anderson at the 2022 Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Annual Conference, valuable lessons on leadership, transparency, and fostering a culture where challenges and imperfections are openly shared were illuminated.

Come join AME at their 2024 Conference in Atlanta later this year.

Here's a short clip:


Larry's perspective on constructively handling “bad news” not only sheds light on effective leadership practices but also emphasizes the importance of creating an environment where team members feel safe and supported in bringing forward issues.

I'll add that cultivating psychological safety requires leaders to

  • model the right behaviors (including speaking candidly)
  • encourage employees to speak candidly
  • reward employees for doing so

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Key Takeaways:

In the clip, you'll hear about:

  • The significance of how leaders respond to bad news.
  • Encouraging openness without fear of retribution.
  • The transformative power of listening and problem-solving in leadership.

This dialogue serves as a reminder that the path to continuous improvement and innovation lies in our ability to confront and learn from our mistakes openly.

For those looking forward to more enriching conversations and insights, don't miss out on the upcoming 2024 AME Annual Conference.

Further exploring Katie Anderson's work can provide additional depth into cultivating a culture of learning and innovation. Visit her website at https://kbjanderson.com.

Let's discuss how we can apply these insights within our teams and organizations. What strategies have you found effective in creating an environment that encourages sharing and learning from mistakes?

Transcript of the Video:

Katie: So how did you start fostering that environment that made it okay to share maybe the imperfections or the challenges, the mistakes? 

Larry: Katie, I think it's largely about how you deal with bad news, right? I can encourage all of you to come to me. If we were working together. “I want to hear the bad news. I want to hear it fast.”

Probably not gonna happen, right?

But a week or two will pass, somebody will have some issue, and that will be the moment of truth, right?

Do you shoot the messenger, or do you listen even if you are unhappy? And do you then go into problem-solving mode, right? Both to contain and to deal with the root cause. That's a lot easier said than done. But I had a wonderful opportunity earlier in my time at GE, where I think there was a perception that the messengers were if not shot, dealt with otherwise.

Where I could, I had a sense that there was bad news brewing. I could see somebody almost trembling it. And we had a great conversation. He had the confidence, the fortitude, the trust to bring it forward. We had a really good discussion about it, Painful for all of us. We ultimately, I think, dealt with the issue, but it was the beginning for us, at least, for the broader team to see I could walk that talk. I could handle bad news. I would not shoot messengers.

Now, I don't think we've completely turned that at GE. I'm not sure we ever necessarily achieved perfection in that regard at Danaher, but any of us, again, it's not a CEO thing. Any of us have the opportunity to create that environment where people want to bring forward an issue and know they're gonna get help.

They won't be chastised. Because if you don't do that, these things submarine on you. The next thing you know, um, something really bad's gonna happen.


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Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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