Mistakes Happen - make the most of them
by Margaret Wright

ISBN:0-9775-599-1-2, Publisher: Moonstone Media, 2006
Reviewed by: Julie Garland McLellan*

"Make a mistake? Me? Not if I can hide it!"

"Wrong, wrong, wrong" says Margaret Wright. As the first female partner at one of Australia's "Big Four" accounting firms and a successful consultant she has made plenty of mistakes and they haven't hampered her career one bit. Margaret reckons that starting her business career as an auditor, essentially looking for other peoples's mistakes, gave her a big insight into identifying early warning signs and rectifying mistakes before they could spread. More important than finding or fixing mistakes, she believes, is the ability to learn from mistakes and to ensure that learning is shared throughout the company by openly admitting to every gaffe, blunder and misstep.

This book is a great companion to Ed Boswell's 'Strategic Speed' which encourages companies to stop and reflect on what went wrong in order to make faster, surer, progress after each setback.

Enlightening quotes from luminaries of business at the top end of town bring Margar's theories to life with practical examples of the costs of cover ups and the benefits of openness. One of my favourites was from Mike Hawker who said "You might fail but you have to take risks. Without risks, where is the joy in life?"

Margaret under-promises and over-delivers as this book goes beyond mere mistakes and into the realm of the character of leadership. This is perhaps where her writing is most inspired and the messages hit home hardest. The pertinent observation that 'as businesses grow larger we become more complex, our lips move more but we say less that matters' pervades the stories of companies that ignored or obfuscated evidence of failures until struck by a disaster. It is often easy to avoid the hard conversations but, without honest feedback, staff cannot grow and rectify their mistakes. Other staff can become resentful of picking up the pieces of wreckage that often float in the wake of apparent 'high risers' and teamwork becomes a sham. The courage to step into these situations with honest feedback and a resolution to either fix or fire poor performers is a prerequisite for corporate success.

Some of the quotes are breathtakingly unexpected because they come from executives known for one aspect of their management style yet reveal another facet of their personalities which explains their success in a way that the previous public image could never do.

This book has some sharp edges and hits hard in a few uncomfortable places. It challenges the reader to inspect workplace relationships and identify colleagues who take time and energy but don't deliver value in return. You may not always have time to invest in these people and must make hard decisions about dealing with them in future. In a workplace culture that is growing increasingly competitive and punitive, it is risky to stand up and announce misgivings - let alone full blown stuff ups - yet that is what exceptional performers do. This book will discourage the mediocre and inspire the exceptional. It is reasonably well written, easily assimilated and entertaining but not a book for those who would prefer to skulk in the corporate shadows.

If you believe that a setback is a set up for a comeback then this book will definitely delight.

* Julie Garland McLellan is a professional non-executive director, board and governance consultant and mentor. She is the author of "Presenting to Boards", "Dilemmas, Dilemmas: practical case studies for company directors'", "The Director's Dilemma", "All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector" and numerous articles on corporate strategy and governance.

Julie Garland McLellan to judge 2011 Global eBook Awards