Several years ago, near the beginning of my professional career, I was a junior engineer helping with the design and issuance of new access badges for a campus of employees where I worked.  Thousands of employees would be getting new badges, they would wear it around their neck on a lanyard and it would have their name and picture on it, along with some other information and it would let them badge into the their work building.access-badge

The Project Manager I reported to, and the Security Manager (our client in essence), were focused on some parallel projects and trusted me to do a good job with relatively limited oversight regarding badge design, layout, and configuration.  I designed a variety of types of badges that denoted different types of employees, laid out all the badge information, configured the magnetic stripe encoding, configured the security groups for the access control system; and presented my leaders with my recommended approach.

Everything looked good, and we moved forward — the security office began issuing new badges to employees, scheduling times for employees to come to the security office to get their picture taken, hand in their old badge, and receive their new badge.  This badge issuance wasn’t cheap, as we were spending significant time for employees and security officers, as well as printing color badges on RFID badges (which at the time weren’t cheap).  After several days of badge issuance, with nearly a thousand badges issued, an employee came up to the security office and asked one of the security officers standing next to me:

Why is our company’s name spelled wrong on my badge?

I started at the badge while I started to realize the impact of this error.  I had misspelled one of the wordHead in Handss in the company division’s name, leaving out a letter.  I was horrified.  We had just spent a huge amount of time and money, and now I realized that my badge design had an obvious spelling error.

With great fear and embarrassment, I told the Security Manager and my Project Manager of my mistake.  Clearly we had to admit the mistake, buy more badges, ask those employees to come back, and ask the security officers to work more extended shifts to get this done.

What shocked me was how the security manager treated it.  I’ve seen managers scream at people for much less, but this guy took it in stride.  He realized the cost of this mistake, but also realized that I already felt horrible, it wasn’t intentional, and he reviewed and approved the badge design without catching the error.  I learned to spell check work products, but more importantly I learned that great leaders take the blame (and pass credit on to their people).

See this Snickers commercial for a similar misadventure:

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