For the past several weeks, I have been following the 9/11 controversy surrounding the FBI, CIA, Bush administration and my two-year-old son. (Okay he hasn’t been blamed yet, but he’s about the only one.) In fact, I’m writing this having just read the Cowley letter (a scathing letter from an FBI field agent to FBI director Robert Mueller that roundly criticizes him and the FBI).
What’s interesting to me in all this is not whether there was a cover-up regarding 9/11 or who is at fault. It’s not whether the government could have prevented 9/11, because we’ll never know. What I find interesting is how the government is handling the situation and what business managers can learn from it.
Deny. Deny. Deny. We heard this a lot during the Clinton administration, but it’s common practice by everyone in Washington and many of us outside of the capital. This is how the Bush administration, FBI and CIA have repeatedly handled all new accusations. As time passed, more information was leaked about what the government really knew and when, revealing that these denials were frivolous.
Denial is a natural reaction for anyone who has made a mistake, especially one of significant magnitude. But, in the end, this strategy precludes growth and prosperity because it prevents us from recognizing our own failures, prohibiting us from taking actions that will allow us to avert the same failures a second time.
At some companies, employees are harshly criticized for their mistakes while under-recognized for their successes. This reality keeps mistakes hidden for too long and prevents companies from learning from their poor performance, ruling out the implementation of meaningful changes, which is exactly what we’re seeing with our government right now. Companies with employees, managers and owners that react in a manner similar to our government regarding the aftermath of 9/11 will soon find themselves lagging behind their peers, if not out of business entirely.
So, what should we do differently? We must realize that everyone makes mistakes. It sounds simple, but many of us don’t do this well. We amplify the errors of others while ignoring our own.
We all fail. But, from the greatest failures can come the greatest successes, if we learn from our mistakes. Therefore, we must properly recognize our failures and understand how and why we failed, lest we repeat the mistakes of our past.