How to process wrong decisions

There are two types of leaders when it comes to dealing with their subordinate’s erroneous decisions. On the one hand, you have leaders quick to punish direct reports that make the wrong decision. On the other hand, there are the leaders that genuinely care for the learning of the direct report. The servant-leader is the second one.

When I worked as the head of Banking Operations a few years ago in Saudi Arabia, I made an erroneous decision. Actually, I made several but different wrong choices in my career. However, I also experienced different ways of processing by my direct manager.

Back then, I was reporting to a British direct supervisor. One of the departments reporting to me was payment processing. The responsibility included fund transfers both local and abroad. It also carried the responsibility of payroll processing for our corporate and government clients.

When I took on the new role, I was utterly dependent on my direct reports to walk me through the critical processes of their function. I depended on my manager in charge of payroll processing. 

The department was in charge of processing over 700 entities. The payroll we processed was a combination of corporate and government payroll. It was a sensitive process. We could not afford a single mistake. 

When we started offering the service, we only had about 20-30 payroll clients. The process involved the client preparing and sending a payroll file in a physical CD. The CD was delivered three days before the actual payroll run. 

As the number of clients grew, I should have questioned the manual process that the department was following. Manually processing payroll for 700 entities is different from processing 30. I had a feeling that the process might blow up one day. However, I decided to rely on the current manual process. I asked my payroll manager about the scalability of the process. He said that it still works.

One payroll day, we got a call from an angry CEO of one of the biggest companies in Saudi Arabia. He accused us of debiting his payroll fund twice. After the CEO investigated, he found out that his 18,000 employees received their payroll TWICE. Yes, twice. Everyone thought that they were given a bonus on that payroll run. We are talking about millions of Saudi Riyals in duplicate payment.

We quickly tried to resolve the issue by debiting their employees’ accounts. We can only do this with employees who had their payroll account with our bank. If the funds were already withdrawn, the system would automatically transfer any income fund to our bank account until the amount was fully recovered.

The problem was with employees with accounts from another bank. We do not have control over their system. The only thing we can do is practically beg the payment operations of the other bank to retrieve our funds.

In the end, it took us a grueling three months to recover 95% of the overdrawn funds. The bank took the hit for the 5%. We needed to pay back our corporate client.

Through this entire ordeal, my direct manager was calm. The priority is to come up with a recovery plan. As we implemented the recovery plan, he talked to me in private. We spoke calmly through the series of events. As expected, I took responsibility for what happened. I decided to trust my payroll manager and stay with the status quo. My British manager highlighted the flaws in the decision-making process and the lessons learned. We also agreed on preventive measures. The incident did not happen again.

The beauty of all this is that my manager did not look at my performance from a single event. He used the event as a learning opportunity to show me how to make better decisions. I respected him more after that incident. 

Let me compare that to another event. This friend of mine was slowly rising in his company. He was getting more assignments. However, instead of deciding to push back when the load was too much, he decided to keep accepting them. The challenge was that he was expected to excel in his additional assignments quickly. Years of experience from the previous manager must be rapidly learned in a week or two.

One day, the load was too much, and he made a mistake with two decisions. His direct manager was a very successful entrepreneur that he looked up to. My friend also wished that one day he could be like his manager. He learned a lot from his direct manager with the time he worked with him. He was ever so grateful for everything.

The decision to keep accepting new assignments was flawed. My friend should have requested a gap between appointments to have the time to assimilate the added responsibility. The resulting two erroneous decisions have stripped him of his additional responsibilities. My friend was fine witb the reduction of responsibilities. He understood his limitations. The sad part was that the fault sidelined him. He no longer has a bright future in the company. All the potentiality he previously showed does not matter anymore.

These are two different approaches to processing wrong decisions. Indeed, failure is part of success. 

If I may add, a failure correctly processed is part of success. Not only do we learn from it, but we also build others with it.

Stay safe,

Jordan Imutan (email)
@jordanimutan (social media)

We don’t have a monopoly of great ideas

The beauty of Simon Sinek’s quotes or lessons is that deep inside; we already know most of the lessons he shares. If you watch his brief talks and read his books, you will think, “Hey, I already know this.” The value Simon brings is articulating the insight. 

This particular insight has already been at the back of my mind for a long time. Every time I witness someone trying to take credit for the companies or departments’ best ideas, I get this nagging sensation. I feel that something is off, but I cannot put my finger on it. Simon finally helped me put into words this thing that has been bothering me.

Walt Disney is a shining example of this quote. He created an environment where the best ideas would trickle upward. The leadership created an environment where no one person holds the monopoly of great ideas

If you step back and observe what a leader needs to do to set up such an environment, it’s not that complicated. The only speedbump is willingness and humility. Is the leader comfortable allowing others to come up with great ideas?

Ashley Head, the former Systems and Operations Director I used to report to, would keep quiet in all meetings he attends. He would encourage everyone to participate. Ashley would seek a quiet person in the room and ask him what he thinks. He has this knack for getting people to share. 

I asked him one day why he was so quiet in these meetings. “If I speak first, chances are, the people in the room may not put forth their ideas. It is a typical organizational dynamic. People are shy to suggest after the highest-ranking person in the room speaks.” Ashey replied. “I always recommend my leadership team to speak last in meetings. Another advantage I realized is that I get to learn from others.” he continued to say.

The lesson I learned from Ashey is quite profound. Allowing others to voice their ideas and suggestions is a powerful way of getting the best out of our team. It’s also an excellent way for leaders to learn new things. It’s a win-win situation. Ashley then joked in closing that leaders who like to dominate discussions should write a book instead of overpowering everyone from sharing their thoughts. Some leaders love the sound of their own voice.

Never attack any idea brought to the table. If you do, the person you embarrassed will no longer suggest anything again. Think about it, who wants to be shamed for presenting an idea? Unfortunately, I witnessed such events where the leader even goes further. After attacking the idea in public, he attacks the person who suggested the idea. There is never a justification for this. Everyone in the room stopped offering ideas for fear that they might be next on the hit list.

How do you create such an environment? Simple, leaders should have the humility to speak last and encourage others to speak up. That’s it.

We don’t have a monopoly of great ideas.

Stay safe,

Jordan Imutan
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8 Things Leaders can consistently do to create a great culture

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Leadership is not always about grand gestures. It’s not about mega-deals. It is not even about trying to be the hero of the day. Authentic leadership is about the little things as well as the big things. It’s the small yet consistent altruism. The keyword being “small” and “altruism.”

After years of observing leaders of different nationalities and ages, daily servant leadership gestures create a great work environment. Of course, the opposite holds as well. Self-serving, egotistical leaderships make for a fearful and toxic work environment.

Allow me to list a few small behaviors that the great leaders I had the privilege of working with exhibit every day. 

1. Be generous with your “thank you.” This simple act of gratefulness goes a long way. Martin, a former department head of development I know, is an excellent example of a grateful leader. He would never forget to give thanks even for the smallest of things. On the flip side, I met leaders who would only show gratitude when they are in a good mood. True servant leaders are consistent.

2. Ask for people’s opinions and LISTEN. Have you ever had this uncomfortable feeling with leaders you worked with that would ask for your views and dismiss them? If your opinion is similar to theirs, they get hyped and excited. If your idea goes against the grain of their views, then it’s ignored or dismissed. These leaders are simply trying to validate their ideas. True servant leaders have a genuine ear for others. When they ask for your opinion, they listen.

3. Be true to your word. Matthew 5:37 of the English Standard Version Bible states, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Some leaders would tell you something to keep you in your place. They do not mean what they say. There was this manager I worked for in my early 30’s who goes around professing that he has an open-door policy. That was the leadership buzzword in the ’90s. I tried walking into his office on five different occasions to seek his opinion; his response is “I am a bit busy. can we have this discussion tomorrow?” After five failed attempts, I decided not to bother. All that talk about having an open door was lip service. It was just for show.

4. Stay true to the vision. Without a vision for the better good of society, where is your organization headed? How do you rally your team? What direction are you pointing to when you are rallying them? I had a client claiming to have a great vision. After a few weeks of insightful personnel interviews, it became clear that 99% of their employees do not know the company vision. Let me correct that. They do not recall their company vision because the owners used difficult words in crafting it. The Vision Statement became a display piece in boardrooms and hallways.

5. Stay true to the core values. Funny how leaders have an ironic set of values. Core Values apply to everyone except the executives or chosen few. Of course, this is never said in public. The funny thing is that the executives think they are getting away with it. Of course, people will notice. There was this company I know that has equality as a core value. The funny thing is – the executives have their own “restaurant” type area on the corporate top floor for their lunch breaks. Lunch was catered daily by a famous restaurant nearby. Food was free. Only C-Level and VP’s are allowed to dine there. We would usually share a big round table with the CEO. The rest of the 2,000 employees in the building goes to the 2nd-floor cafeteria. Food was paid for by employees. Where is the equality in that?

6. Catch people doing right and not just doing wrong. Have you ever noticed managers that are so quick in finding faules in you? These managers are always on the lookout to catch you violating a company policy. Why not try and catch people doing that right thing? The corporate world would be a better place.

7. Do not sacrifice your employee over an abusive client. When your leaders quickly side with a harsh and disrespectful client, it’s time to seek employment elsewhere. When leaders shout, “our people are our most important asset.” and put arrogant clients first, then employees will know they are not “first.”

8. Smile. A leader’s mood determines the work environment temperature. A visible foul mood puts employees in a “flight, fight or freeze” state of mind. People would be checking on the Leader’s “mood” coming into work before planning what to do for the day. “Is it a good time to speak to him?” “Should I raise this idea now?”. “Is it a good time to request for my vacation leave?” This is such a waste of time and energy. Instead of channeling energy to productive endeavors, employees channel their energy to protect themselves. Smile when things go your way. Smile when things do not go your way. The need to smile is more important in times of challenges. 
The list above does not require tremendous effort. These are small things leaders can do to create a great culture. All it takes from servant leaders is humility and a mindset of servitude. 

Culture is what a leader allows to grow.

Stay safe,

Jordan Imutan (email)
@jordanimutan (social media)