Do You Look for Mistakes or Happy People?

Last month, I took a short vacation in Eilat while Mark went on a bike ride. I ordered some lunch in the lobby “bar.” (No, I don’t drink my lunch!) The bar manager took my order and we continued our discussion from the other day. How was my husband’s bike ride?

I said he had been wet in the rain, but he was happy.

The manager said something I thought was profound. “The general manager of the hotel came by earlier. I asked him what he was looking for.”

The manager said, “Happy people. I want happy people working in the hotel. They will create happy guests. I don’t need to look for mistakes. If people are happy, they will find their own mistakes. It’s my job to keep them happy.”

I was a happy guest. I didn’t see any unhappy guests the entire time I was there. 

Now, I’m not saying everything was perfect. Things broke. Not everything was ideal. But enough things were perfect that I could overlook anything that was not perfect. I asked for changes when I needed them. The hotel staff was happy to accommodate my requests. 

What about you? What do you look for? Areas of improvement or mistakes? Or do you look for happiness or the lack thereof?

I bet that manager was quite effective. I certainly enjoyed my time at the hotel.

Dear adaptable leaders, that is the question of the week: Do you look for mistakes or happy people?

11 thoughts on “Do You Look for Mistakes or Happy People?

  1. Tomas

    I always try to look for happiness. And not only look for it, I try (hard, if I may say so) to make others happy and “spark” the overall culture of happiness amongst my peers. Surely, having happy people on a team dors not mesn everything will go well. But happy and engaged (don’t like that word particulary, but cannot think if a better one) people can in my experience deal with most of the problems they encounter very well (as opposed to the “mistakes search” atmosphere, where people usually only try not to make mistakes, instead of trying to achieve something).

    1. johanna Post author

      Hi Tomas, I wish I was so consistent. I am not always on the lookout for happiness. Sometimes, I look for what can go wrong or what is going wrong. I want to know if I am managing risks, or at least, being aware of them.

      I find this one a challenge.

      1. Tomas

        Well, I wrote “I try to”, not that I always manage to. I completely agree that the urge to look for either potential problems or those already underway is sometimes very strong. What I try is at least not to point directly at these (and provide simple solutions, removing the need to think about them from others) but just “nudge” others to solve the problems themselves. But – I admit – if I am under consistent and long-term pressure, I sometimes fall into old habits of just solving problems myself.

  2. Kevin Callahan

    In the Appreciate Inquiry world we say variants of “human systems move in the direction of their attention/questions”

    As counter-intuitive as it might be, especially when things are difficult, looking for the best does work. I’ve asked leaders: when a fire has burned out and there is only a single coal left, who would blame the ash? Of course, you nurse that coal back to a new fire.

    In unschooling, a variant of homeschooling that is radically child-directed, we say “focus on the learner, not the topic.” Similar pattern of attending to the learning process, rather than output.

    If we look deeply into the Toyota Way, we see this in their foundation of Lean Thinking: that managers are coaches and mentors of transforming employees’ thinking. Good thinking leads to good outcomes.

    As knowledge workers, our thinking (particularly as it pertains to how we relate to each other; emotional and social intelligence is included) is the most important thing. It might be the only important thing…

    1. johanna Post author

      Kevin, thank you for your thoughtful answer.

      I’ve been reading about servant leadership. (Aside from some of what I would call “woo-woo”) Much of what it says is to focus on the people. Let them work to their capabilities. If you serve them, they might discover more capabilities.

      1. Kevin Callahan

        Yes; one of the best aspects of leadership I’ve been thinking a lot about recently as a coach is that true leaders get us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t. This of course is not only how amazingly resonant leaders accomplish incredible feats, though how demagogues inspire acts of hate from otherwise reasonable individuals.

        There are some studies about physician-patient relationships that look at both adherence to treatment protocols and malpractice cases. In both contexts, the controlling variable appears to be the relationship itself. Doctors who form solid positive relationships with their patients have remarkably lower rates of lawsuits and remarkably high rates of patients following treatments.

        Spending time and effort investing in authentic relationships is quite simply what drives amazing organizations forward. Of course, there needs to be enough process and structure to support the work, and there needs to be value being created, though when we look at what is possible when we give ourselves the opportunity to flip our thinking, it’s truly astounding!

        1. johanna Post author

          Oh, I like that “true leaders get us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t.”

          I have “fired” doctors who would not work with me. (Found another specialist whom I liked.) Yes, I am a medical mystery, and I know my body best. I live with me all day every day, not the once or twice a year they see me.

  3. Kevin Callahan

    Thanks ;) Wish I could take credit for it though I borrowed from David Foster Wallace via this link: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/02/17/dfw-leadership-debbie-millman/

    +1 for for taking your care into your hands; it’s amazing both how incredible the combination of compassion and expertise can be in medicine, and how alienating just the expertise can be.

    And, thank you for posting these great articles. I always enjoy reading your thoughts and appreciate very much your engagement in the comments ;)

    1. johanna Post author

      Wow, I got stuck in some of the brainpickings posts. I will subscribe!

      Thank you for your comments. I engage on all my blogs, and I find this blog to be the most interesting feedback I receive. I never know what will strike some chord in other people. It’s a grand experiment for me, and I’m having fun with it.

  4. Liz Mathews

    When hiring always, always look for happy, smart people. These people want to be engaged and will look for innovation – often in places you won’t think of. Then, as a manager, it’s your job to keep them happy and learning. Smart people like to learn. Most like challenges. Most want to do more. Happy, smart people will take you places you can’t even imagine. Plus, they are fun to work with.

    1. johanna Post author

      Liz, wonderful. I have added “sense of humor” in my job analysis for project managers, program managers, and other managers. I did not think of “happy” as something I should look for. (I think I did, subconsciously, but not consciously.) Great idea.

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