Most of us tend to try and avoid mistakes and view them as negative rather than important. But mistakes can teach us and help us improve. Understanding the importance of mistakes and how to use them to our best advantage is what separates out the great leaders from the rest of the crowd. There is a skill to handling mistakes and understanding how to turn them into opportunities for leadership excellence.
“If you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You are doing things you have never done before, and more importantly, you are doing something.” Neil Gaiman
Mistakes Offer Opportunities
Making mistakes provides us opportunities to showcase our leadership. Instead of trying to hide our errors, we should be using them to highlight our leadership skills and character. Here are just a few of the ways that we can use mistakes to our advantage.
We have been taught that mistakes mean we have done something wrong and we have failed in some way. Identifying actions and outcomes that make us feel like we didn’t succeed can help us gain clarity on what success means to us. Mistakes let us know we have strayed from what we want to be, do, or have. Paying attention to why we view the action as a mistake can help nudge us back towards our desired vision and leadership purpose.
Because mistakes tend to be viewed as negative, we have a natural fear of them. An even stronger emotion is our sense of pride; and we fear those things that threaten our ego. To admit that something went wrong and take action to correct it calls on us to face those fears. Learning to overcome our fear opens us up for growth and advancement. Facing your fear is a sign of power and resiliency.
Addressing the fear that mistakes can bring and moving forward despite the setbacks demonstrates courage. It takes courage to admit that we didn’t get it right the first time and we want to try again with a new approach. Understanding how to be emotionally and mentally courageous is something that many of struggle with. Mistakes provide us opportunities to show our courage, and courage is a sign of leadership.
Mistakes force us to explore alternatives. They require us to re-examine an issue and think creatively to find or develop other solutions or approaches. Mistakes teach us what doesn’t work and encourages us to create new ways of thinking and doing. Creativity and innovation are a mindset where mistakes are viewed as educational challenges. This shift in mindset can provide positive energy for discovering something new and better.
Big mistakes often start as small errors. Even our smallest choices have power, so it is important we pay attention to the integrity of the choices we make every day. Mistakes can be a signal that our words and our actions are out of alignment. In that case, we can re-examine our intentions, reconsider our priorities, and adjust our actions. How we handle mistakes demonstrate the integrity of our leadership.
Many mistakes provide a lesson to be learned. Not only is it a lesson for us, but it provides an opportunity to teach and mentor others what we’ve learned. Others may be inspired when we are courageous and make our private struggles public. As leaders we can teach that it is okay to fail because we are willing to let them see our failures and mistakes. This gives us opportunities to talk through what we could or would have done differently. These are powerful lessons for leaders to share.
One indicator of a great leader is how one handles mistakes. Being able to effectively handle difficulties demonstrates who can overcome challenges and setbacks, and who can’t. Great leaders know how to correct issues and move forward. Here are the steps for leading through mistakes.
The first step in handling a mistake is to recognize and acknowledge that a mistake has been made. This means no passing the buck, no excuses, no blame shifting, and no sweeping the issue under the rug. Pretending the mistakes didn’t happen doesn’t allow you to learn from it or fix it. Ignoring the mistake only sets you up to repeat it.
This is a difficult step for many of us, but we must take responsibility for our actions. We must own up to the mistake and claim it as our own. If an apology is in order, make it a real apology, not something lame and self-protective. Apologizing for a mistake that you made can make a big difference. By apologizing, you are showing courage. It makes you an authentic and sincere leader. Remember, this includes taking responsibility for the actions of your teams. If their successes are your successes, then their mistakes must also be your mistakes.
You must pinpoint the specific error. Ask lots of questions and find out what the exact action was that created the mistake. You must understand the how, the what, the why, the when, and the where to properly correct the issue. It is the difference between knowing that something is wrong with your car because the check engine light is on, and being the mechanic who can determine the specific error that is causing the light to go on.
Once you know the specific error that was made, you can create a plan to correct the mistake. The best plan will have multiple options for correcting the issue. This allows you to be flexible and explore various ways to address the issue.
Flexibility is key in the implementation of the plan. You need to pay close attention to how your solution is working and be ready to adapt to one of your alternation options if needed. This lets you address the issue as it is happening rather than waiting until completion.
After the plan has been implemented, make sure you take the time to review the results. You want to ensure that not only did you correct the initial mistake, but that all the actions combined produced the intended outcomes. Sometimes fixing one thing creates another challenge. Reviewing the entire issue allows you to confirm the problem has been fully resolved.
Putting It All Together
Remember that mistakes are part of life and that making one relates to an action we have taken, not who we are as a person. In fact, research has found that having compassionate acceptance of your own mistakes can boost your determination to reach your goals. The fear of being nothing, achieving nothing and becoming nothing should be much bigger than the fear of making mistakes.
“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” Winston Churchill
We must learn to embrace our mistakes and see them for the lessons they offer and the opportunities they provide. This is the approach that will catapult our leadership to success. An experimental approach to life and learning must include using mistakes to our advantage. By staying focused on the big picture of our life and were we are headed, we can learn to take mistakes in stride as part of our personal leadership development.