Starting out as a software engineer in computer communications, I ran across the robustness principle:

Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others

accept rejectIt’s a highly useful approach to get software programs to work well with each other, but I’ve also learned that it’s even more powerful when talking about human relationships.

Humans make a lot more mistakes than computers do.

When I impose strict requirements for how others behave – my family, my employees, my partners – even the smallest mistake will cause great anxiety.  I’ll become frustrated by how unpredictable and unreliable others are.

But the other ways is just as important.  If I’m unpredictable and unreliable, I’m going to drive other people crazy.  It helps if they know what to expect of me – including apologizing for my mistakes.

You might worry that predictable means boring.  But I’m not talking about doing the same thing, day in and day out.  I’m instead referring to patterns of behavior:

  • Doing what you say you’ll do
  • Being honest
  • Communicating clearly
  • Staying true to the larger vision

That gives plenty of room for learning, for change, and for having fun.

As a leader, when you’re setting up an environment for success – be clear on what you need and expect.  That’s the “be conservative on what you do” part.  But then be reasonable in what you accept; don’t react out of proportion.

Give feedback that’s as specific and useful as you can make it.  But then give latitude for people to use some common sense.  They’ll not only appreciate it, but they may just improve things!