Are Errors of Apathy Eroding Your Organization?

If you’re not making mistakes you’re not trying anything new. Yet in many organizations, there’s a greater penalty for errors than for inaction.

The reason is that inaction often goes unnoticed, while errors are front and center. Yet over time, inaction is an insidious error that will eventually erode a culture or a career.

If you want to create a proactive culture, or be proactive yourself, it helps to differentiate between the two kinds of errors:

1. Errors of enthusiasm 

We have a young man who manages our social media. When he first started in his role, he pushed some of the rules on a few websites, and got his hand slapped.Ambition Meter Showing Motivation And Drive

He’s managing our online reputation, so it would have been easy to freak out.

But taking a step back, I realized, this guy is excited, he’s out there, he’s trying to make it happen, we want this kind of energy in our business. Yes he’d made an error, but it was an error of enthusiasm.

He didn’t need a reprimand, just the opposite; he deserved recognition. He had gotten our content into hundreds of new places; a few mistakes were inevitable.


When a colleague makes a mistake, look at the larger context. Is it a 5% error resulting from initiative that was 95% successful? If so, let it go; their overall win rate is excellent. Even if it’s  a total epic fail that stemmed from proactive intentions, praise the effort.  You don’t win if you don’t try.

The same approach applies to self-management. If you’ve made an error of enthusiasm, give yourself credit for trying. Berating yourself, or others for every error creates a climate of malaise.

2. Errors of Apathy

These mistakes are harder to spot, but they’re widely prevalent.

For example, the team is in a meeting; the boss puts forth an initiative, and all the heads nod. Well, they mostly nod; if you look closely a few of the nods look apathy postermore like sideway glances. These are the people who think there’s a problem, but they’re too intimidated to say anything.  Instead of voicing their concern, they play it safe and stay quiet.

Another scenario, a manager sees a new business opportunity, she recognizes that it has some risk.  She decides to stay under the radar and not pursue it because she’s afraid of public failure.


The leader’s job is to take fear off the table. You create a proactive culture by rewarding initiative. Make it known that you want people to challenge the status quo, and take risks.

My business partner (also husband) and I were reviewing our financial results for last year. We’d had our biggest year ever. But there were several expensive sales trips that didn’t result in business. My immediate reaction was to say, “Next year, let’s try to avoid that.”  He said, “If some of your trips don’t fail, you’re not trying hard enough.”

He’s right. Give your people confidence by telling them up front that you expect a sizable failure rate. In our case it was 20%. This year, instead of trying to reduce the failure rate, we’re focused on increasing the number of times we try.

Eliminate fear and set the expectation that being proactive is rewarded. Make it clear that apathy will not be tolerated. That means calling people out for inaction.

Errors of enthusiasm aren’t fatal. But, over time, errors of apathy can kill you.

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