Mistakes Offer Chances to Learn

Eric Frederick |

I’ve noticed over my 55 years that many of the lessons I learn in my personal life have direct application in my professional life. Sometimes I’ve heard people refer to these lessons as coming from the school of hard knocks.
Four months ago, my friend lost her husband. While his death wasn’t totally unexpected, they weren’t prepared financially. Long-term financial security in the form of personal savings and sufficient life insurance hadn’t been put in place before his illness. Once his health problems arose, the cost of treatment and drug therapies exceeded their insurance coverage and incurring additional debt became necessary to cover the extra costs.
After her husband’s death, my friend sank into a state of depression and couldn’t force herself to take the action her counselors and her friends recommended. She needed to sell her house and some furnishings and move into a smaller apartment. What money she had couldn’t pay off her outstanding bills. She was in denial and couldn’t believe this was happening to her.
As tragic as this situation is, there are valuable lessons to be learned from her story. The first is that the time to plan for problems is before they occur. For example, it was impossible to get additional property insurance just before Hurricane Katrina hit. As managers, we need to plan for all kinds of problems and then hope they will never come.
What would you do if your laundry couldn’t operate for the next 24, 48 or 72 hours of regularly scheduled production? What are your customers’ expectations then? What’s your plan to recover from a natural disaster? What’s your plan in the case of a pandemic?
The best time to put together a 72-hour emergency kit is before you need it. The people of New Orleans would’ve been much better off if those who went to the shelters brought personal survival kits.
The second major lesson to be learned from my friend’s story is that inaction can often be as harmful as taking the wrong action. She simply chose to deny she had a financial problem and hoped it would go away. How many laundry managers have done the same thing? “Yes, I know my labor costs are too high but there isn’t anything I can do about it.” This manager is in denial, using excuses to prevent him from having to take action. Eventually someone else will take the needed action and I guarantee he won’t like the results.
We’ve all heard the excuses given to justify our problems: If only the union was more reasonable! If only they would let me buy that new piece of equipment! I can’t get good production out of the type of person that personnel sends me to interview! The nurses abuse and misuse my textile items, so it’s no wonder the cost is so high!
There’s an old saying that the manager who can stay cool when everything around him is falling apart has simply found something or someone else to blame it on.
I recently heard a sports commercial that had an excellent message. Adapted for this article, it said, “The manager who believes he can improve his operation every day and the manager who believes he can’t do anything to improve his operation because he’s limited by his circumstances are both correct. We simply have to decide which one we want to be.”
In order to plan effectively for the future and improve our operations on a daily basis, we must overcome our fears that hold us back. We have to realize that there’s no security in the status quo. When you do what you’ve always done, then you get what you’ve always had, and that simply isn’t good enough for tomorrow.
My father once told me that a good manager learns from his mistakes but a great manager learns from other managers’ mistakes. Life’s lessons are a chance for us to learn both from our own and from others’ mistakes.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at


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