Mastering Mistakes

The word ‘mistake’ is full of negative connotations, yet when you look at some of its synonyms, they don’t appear so harsh. Indeed words like - inaccuracy, lapse, omission and oversight - seem to strike less fear into people.

We all make mistakes, but in the majority of cases these aren’t life threatening. What’s dangerous about them is the underlying fear that can stop people from coming clean and admitting that they’ve dropped the ball. Denying or hiding your mistakes can lead to a worse outcome than the consequences of the initial mistake.

Martial arts extraordinaire Bruce Lee said: ‘Mistakes are always forgivable if one has the courage to admit them.’

Not only are mistakes forgivable, but having the courage to admit them can help you grow as a leader.

We often see people shy away from admitting mistakes due to anxiety or fear. This can be for many reasons including job protection or fear of what your colleagues or management might think. Creating a culture where mistakes are acknowledged as being part and parcel of life creates a more positive and open culture.

Start with yourself
  • Begin by admitting your own mistakes and owning up to them. By doing this you will start to accept who you are as a person and have the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your people. This makes it easier when your team member has an off day.
  • Change the language- rather than talking about ‘mistakes’, position this as ‘learning’, something many of us strive to do every day. This will help get rid of the negative stigma of a mistake, making us more likely to admit when we need help. Admitting mistakes also gives you the chance to make amends or minimise damage.
  • It’s crucial that you learn how to have a measured, rational and non-emotional response to any issues. This shows your people that ‘learnings’ are just like anything else we do in a workday, they are simply a new problem to be solved.
Instil these values in your team
  • Grow and embrace a culture of honesty with your team by being honest with your people. Start by sharing your own mistakes and telling them something you have learnt this week.
  • This will help to teach them that everyone has a bad day and that being open immediately can stop further issues. If your team feel comfortable coming to you immediately when something happens, your organisation will have the upper hand in being able to solve challenges immediately, often halting further consequences.

If you get this right, both your worth as a leader – and the operation of your team – will reap huge business benefits for your organisation.

Author: Peter Robinson
Team Leadership Services