Giovanni Martinelli on Mistakes

You are going to make a mistake. This is not a psychic premonition; it’s a reality for anyone motivated towards achievement. You are going to work towards an end-goal and it is not going to work out. The way you react when this happens will determine how others perceive you and your leadership. Giovanni Martinelli can serve as an example.

Giovanni Martinelli was one of the most famous Italian operatic tenors of the 20th century. He had international acclaim and spent a large portion of his career in New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

In a recent interview on Greg Fitzsimmons’ podcast, comedic legend Carl Reiner was discussing a concert he attended many years ago. Giovanni was trying to hit a high note when his voice cracked. He could have pretended it didn’t happen or dishonestly blamed the orchestra. Instead, Giovanni:

…started to laugh uncontrollably. In the middle of the laugh he yelled out, ‘You hear this? You hear what happen here?’ And he continued to laugh and then he said, ‘Should we try again? Should we try again?’ And of course the audience applauded. He tried again, hit that note, knocked it out of the park, and they gave him a bigger hand then he ever would have gotten if he had done it right the first time.

Most of us are not leading on quite as lonesome a stage as an opera singer. When faced with mishaps, we can ramble on about the changes in the industry or the downturn of the market. There are technological glitches to accuse and a myriad of people who may have had some hand in the blunder. But is this leadership?

Not every mistake is directly your fault or even unavoidable. Nonetheless, when you are always blaming others, how does this affect the people who are following you? How much is fear affecting their decisions? The fear that the next mistake could be pinned on them. The fear that you are only looking out for yourself with no regard for the team.

When Carl Reiner witnessed Giovanni’s mishap, he took away a valuable lesson.

The lesson for me was go with the flow. There are no mistakes. Use the mistakes.

A few things to consider:

  • People appreciate a degree of self-deprecation. If you are the first one to laugh at yourself, you are both showing humility and getting ahead of the insults.
  • When you turn a negative into a not-so-negative, it shows your resourcefulness, quick wit, and ability to rebound. These are highly valuable attributes for a leader.
  • Be wrong as fast as you can. The quicker you identify that you’re going the wrong way, the quicker you can address it and make the needed corrections.

The most effective leader is the one who can say, “I screwed up,” and follow this with, “so let’s figure out how we can clean this mess up.” No excuses. No blaming. Your (figurative) voice cracked; get over it and move on.

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