Leadership - Accepting Mistakes

Learn From Your Mistakes

Who Broke That? Mistakes are unavoidable in life and leaders certainly make their share of them.  Any time you look to break new ground or technologies or whatever it is you are leading, you open up many new avenues for mistakes and they are inevitable with change. You can’t have one without the other and so learning to use mistakes well is an important leadership trait.  The first point about mistakes is that a great leader learns from their own mistakes.  They know when they make it and will quickly look at what can be salvaged or gained from the mistake as to avoid it in the future or to streamline some action or process to improve it next time.  This makes no difference if the mistake is big or small, there is always something to be learned from it and mistakes offer an immediate piece of feedback to anyone who is wise enough to learn from it.

Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom. (Phyllis Therous)

Another point of learning from mistakes is to also be a leader in this area and actually admit your own mistakes.  Admit when you were wrong, and emphasize what you have learned from it and what your next steps are work around that mishap.  If you encourage and set the example of owning up to mistakes quickly and working past them, you can quickly inspire your followers to do the same and look at the value of the mistakes instead of hiding from them.

Leave Room for Mistakes to Happen

If you have done the first part and owned up and admitted your own mistakes you have done a great service to those following you.  You have proven that you are OK with mistakes happening as long as they are learned from.  You must do the same for others.  That is, give them room to make mistakes, make sure they know that and don’t reprimand mistakes, instead simply follow up on what they have learned and that they have put in place things to ensure it doesn’t repeat itself.  If you make sure people know that they have some room to try new things, innovate, be creative and take some risks, then the fear of making mistakes is greatly reduced.  Of course you don’t want to encourage mistakes to happen when they are avoidable, but if you give people some extra time, room and allowance to do their own steps and learn in the process, they will be much more likely to learn from them as well.  A previous article I wrote here called The Power of Making Mistakes should add some details if you are interested.

Sometime as a leader there is value is leaving a decision or process up to someone else for them to learn from it.  Even if you know the best method or the result of some idea, there is great value in promoting others’ ideas and seeing it though, even if there is a mistake bound to happen because of it.  Adopting the ideas of others and letting the mistakes guide things beyond it will quickly grow all those involved and gain a lot of trust and respect of the leader when the mistakes are OK and not constantly punished.  This fear of making mistakes is a huge contributer why people fear change, fear risk and don’t step up to their full potential, so eliminating that fear of mistakes, eliminates much of that other baggage as well.

Show me a person who has never made a mistake and I’ll show you somebody who has never achieved much. (Joan Collins)

Don’t Dwell on Mistakes, Look Beyond and Move Forward

Learning from mistakes clearly needs some analysis of the mistake itself to gain value from it.  This is certainly true and there are a few steps to use to analyze a mistake quickly and efficiently:

  1. Accept that it happened and can’t be changed.
  2. Know there is always something to learn from it.
  3. Look to understand it and the factors that caused it.
  4. How could you have recognized the mistake earlier?
  5. How can you avoid the mistake next time?
  6. Are there similar things that might have a related mistake to avoid?
  7. What has changed now to ensure that mistake doesn’t reoccur?
  8. Who else should know about this and learn from it?

So, once you have done this initial analysis of the mistake, its time to move on.  No matter how big the mistake was, just let it go and move on.  Make the changes needed to avoid it next time and make sure that everything you spend time on now in accepting the mistake is with the future in mind, not the past.  Put your focus on what you can do for next time, not what you should have done.  Ask what individuals are doing now or in the future to ensure it won’t repeat itself and remind people to think of ways to avoid the similar event.  All these actions will move you forward and enable you to quickly adapt and deal with similar situations in the future even better and hopefully you will never make the same mistake again!

Accepting Mistakes - Help Get Past Them
Accepting Mistakes – Move On

Photo Credit: hellophotokitty @ flickr

When you focus on the improvements and lessons learned from a mistake you reinforce the ability to make mistakes part of the process and something that is accepted as long as it improves things.  There is no value in worrying about the mistake or dwelling on it after it is done.  So, move on!

The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one. (Elbert Hubbard)

Mistakes to Avoid as a Leader

So, while all this encouraging of mistakes and learning from them are important as a leader to make some room for, they obviously need to be balanced and still minimized whenever possible ahead of time, especially when the risks are high.  There are also some mistakes that will immediately set you back as a leader if you make them so knowing these and avoiding them is a big help in leadership.  Here are my top 10 mistakes you can make as a leader so definitely areas to!

  1. Pull the power or authority card
  2. Do the work yourself because you are faster or better
  3. Point the blame finger
  4. Focus on tasks instead of results
  5. Avoid change
  6. Don’t listen to or accept others’ ideas
  7. Complain or be negative
  8. Hoard everything for job security
  9. Claim or take any credit
  10. Not showing appreciation

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