In business, bad decisions do get made and mistakes do happen.

No matter who you are, what you do or how careful you are, at some point something will go wrong.

Because the likelihood of errors is high, detecting and managing them and making sure they are not repeated is essential to minimising the consequences.

The key to this is the simple skill of listening, according to business consultancy Change Meridian's Managing Director Michelle Gibbings.

She said leaders who listened to the opinions of others showed they were open to hearing different perspectives and willing to question and challenge their thinking.

“If you don’t do that, it is very easy to make poor decisions because you are looking at an issue through a lens that says 'this is the way things have to be',” Ms Gibbings said.

She said being open to new ideas also helped avoid bias in decision-making, which in turn could lessen the likelihood of making bad choices.

Bias could also be avoided by having an open, diverse and accepting workplace culture, as this was more likely to result in people being confident their opinions would be heard and valued.

Ms Gibbings said an open culture would spur staff members to speak up if things went wrong.

“An open culture is one that encourages feedback from staff and ensures if something does go wrong, the likelihood of the issue being dealt with at the earliest opportunity increases,” she said.

“If you are to be an effective organisation, you need a culture where people who either make or find mistakes are comfortable about speaking up about them without fear of retribution.”

According to Ms Gibbings, diversity plays a crucial role in creating this atmosphere, as people are better able to approach a problem and challenge any underlying assumptions when diverse opinions are presented.

“A leader needs to hire people with diverse ideas and backgrounds. That includes experience, ethnic background, age and gender. You want that mix in your team so it’s creating diversity of thought,” she said.

A leader’s ability to cope with and manage their stress levels was another aspect of creating an open and inviting atmosphere, according to Ms Gibbings. She said leaders who were on top of their health would be in a better frame of mind to hear the views of others and advocated exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep, meditating and using mindfulness techniques to manage pressure.

“If a leader is stressed and in the ‘fight or flight’ mode, they are far less likely to listen to the ideas of others because they don’t have the mental capacity to do so,” Ms Gibbings said.

“It’s really important for a leader to be in the best mental and physical shape.”

Ms Gibbings said for all the benefits of an open and collaborative approach, there would be times when the democratic approach would just not be suitable. At such times, leaders would make decisions without staff input.

“It’s important as a leader to work out when to consult others and get different ideas and when to make the decision yourself,” she said.

“I encourage leaders to reflect at the end of each day, looking at what worked or didn’t work for them and what they can do differently next time. This continual process of reflection and refinement can help them improve consistently.”


Michelle Gibbings

  • Roles Managing Director at Change Meridian.
  • Studied The London School of Economics and Political Science; Australian Institute of Company Directors; Monash University.
  • Worked Transformation Management Office and Change Director at AMP; various senior management roles at NAB; various management roles at ANZ and in the mining sector.

Chris Thurmott is a Senior Journalist for The West Australian and he writes for a variety of different publications including Leader and National Mining Chronicle.