I spent most of my four years of college living at Theta Delta Chi fraternity. While most people who never lived in a fraternity think that it was all about parties and intramural sports, in my experience, they are also all about preparing young men to become leaders in the post-college world. At Theta Delta Chi part of how we did that was going on brotherhood road trips including a bunch of team building and trust building activities. During one such trip, we participated in an activity where a hopscotch type setup was drawn on the floor, and we had to take turns trying to figure out the secret pattern to get across it. Anytime one of us made a wrong move we lost and had to go back to the back of the line while the next one of our brothers tried to figure out the pattern with what we had learned from our misstep. The idea was to show us the difference between making a misstep and a mistake.
A misstep is when you make a wrong move, but since you’ve never been in this particular situation before, you simply had no way of knowing, and it was pretty much unavoidable. A mistake is when you make the same misstep more than once – when you should’ve known better. You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself for making missteps because you’re human, and you’re going to make them. Focus instead on avoiding repeating them and making them into real mistakes.
We believe that this is an important distinction for both employees and companies to understand. If your people make a misstep, as they inevitably will, it’s time to educate, go easy on them and help them understand how to avoid causing this to happen again. When missteps become mistakes, that’s the time to discipline.