As I started my career, I would often say “if I didn’t think that was dumb at least once a day, I wasn’t pushing myself and learning”. This was essentially my way of shrugging off the embarrassment from a mistake and making a promise that I would never repeat it by learning from it. This worked for me. I wasn’t afraid to try and I grew as a result.
However, this didn’t work for me as a leader. If they made a mistake I had already made, I considered it a personal failure on my part. So I would often explain what I had learned, why I had learned it and then help them avoid repeating the mistake. Sounds great, right? At first, I thought this made complete sense for the company, for the person and for me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t looking at the long vs short term benefits. I wasn’t being a leader.
There are so many points in my career where I thought “why didn’t someone just tell me” but if I’m really honest, I’m not sure I would have listened. My entire life I have lived by experiencing for myself. Reflecting and drawing insights for myself. All of those mistakes, those are my experiences that I grew from. Without them, I would speak only in theories and concepts without tangible examples to leverage. Yet, here I am taking these experiences away from people who I am responsible for professionally growing with a “trust me, don’t do that”.
How was I going to change my view of people making mistakes to opportunities? Personally, I did this by thinking of ways to support and help the person adapt to the mistake faster than I did. Basically, I would create a little “what’s the worst that can happen” plan, which helped me put in perspective what the value from the experience could be. For them, they get the experience and true learning. For me, I didn’t feel like I just missed the mistake but made a choice towards long term ownership and learning. The best part, which won’t surprise many…I’m sometimes very wrong and the mistake is not a mistake at all!
I will be sharing more about the experiences that helped me rethink mistakes during the session “My Favorite Mistakes” at the Agile Leadership Summit on November 15th in Boston.
Disclaimer: Yes there are mistakes that should be prevented (such as the choice that would bankrupt the company). This is for the other ~95%.