Second and Third Chances

Sometimes you find wisdom in unexpected places.  I was reading a novel by Louise Penny recently and came across a line full of wisdom.  “There is grace in second chances and foolishness is thirds.”  Think about that.  To me it says that everyone should get a second chance.  We all make mistakes and don’t do the right thing from time to time.  That’s the grace in second chances part.  On the other hand, the foolishness in thirds part says that we should learn from our mistakes.  In other words, it’s OK to make a mistake as long as you learn from it and don’t repeat it.

Almost 40 years ago, Maggie Watson a boss and mentor, said essentially the same thing to me.  I had inadvertently broken a confidence.  Maggie wasn’t happy.  When she called me on it, I apologized profusely.  I’ll never forget what happened next.  She looked me in the eye and said, “It’s OK Bud.  Everybody makes mistakes.  But you’ll never make the same mistake with me three times.  The first time, I’ll correct you.  The second time, you’re gone.”

The idea of giving second but not third chances, applies in business and in life.  If you’re a boss, you have the responsibility of helping the people you lead to succeed.  That’s where second chances come in.  Use mistakes as learning opportunities.  Point out what the other person did wrong, and what he or she might do differently in the future.  If the same problem happens a third time, you’ll need to take some more drastic action.  Make sure you follow your company’s established HR guidelines before you do.

Second chances have more to do with personal slights when dealing with coworkers and friends.  Tell the other person how his or her behavior affected you, and ask that he or she not repeat it.  If it happens again, you might want to rethink your relationship with that individual.  You may not be able to cut that person out of your life, but you can make some changes in how you deal with him or her.  Maybe you won’t be as trusting.  Maybe you won’t share confidences.   Whatever, it’s up to you.

The point here is simple.  Whether you’re a boss dealing with a subordinate, or someone who is dealing with a coworker or a friend, be graceful when someone makes a mistake for the first time.  Be willing to give a second chance.  But don’t be foolish and allow people to continually make the same mistake over and over.

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