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Failing to Learn

Optimize Blog - April 16, 2014 - 0 comments

Ever see those new leaders who carry themselves with such bravado? They’re usually the ones who haven’t failed yet. When they inevitably do, it isn’t pretty to watch. First, they try to cover it up and when that fails, they seek to lay blame. Some persevere and come out wiser but too often they fail to learn and they ramp up the bravado only to repeat the same mistakes. There are some that simply give up, laying the blame on timing, circumstance, and fate – it was all just bad luck.
Now, we need to be clear in that we all make mistakes. Every one of us. To err is human as the saying goes. However it’s not all bad and if we aren’t making mistakes, then we likely aren’t trying enough new things and that in itself is a mistake. In truth making mistakes and learning from them is the best way to learn and grow as a person and as a leader.
Making mistakes is also the route to arriving at great ideas and innovation. Mistakes are the stepping stones to moving outside our comfort zone to a place where new discoveries are made and lessons are learned. It’s actually much easier to hang out in all the old familiar places – doing the same things, remaining static but this leads to atrophy and does nothing to move us or the organization forward.
We need to shift our thinking and recognize that mistakes are not failures, they are the process of eliminating ways that won’t work in order to come closer to the ways that will. This all sounds fine and dandy but while mistakes allow individuals to learn and grow, they can also be very costly to any company.
Truly great leaders find ways to allow their people to take these risks and create a culture where mistakes are tolerated and even encouraged but we are not advocating recklessness and repeated mistakes where people fail to learn cannot be allowed. We don’t need individuals putting the organization at risk – it’s all about balance and taking the right risks at the right time in the right circumstances.
So here are a few pointers in the art of dealing with mistakes:
1. Learn from them: Good leaders recognize that they have, in fact, made a mistake. They do not get defensive about it, rather they are willing to look objectively at their mistake, recognize what they did wrong, and understand why their choice or actions were the wrong thing to do.
2. Own them: Good leaders take accountability for their mistakes. They admit them readily. They don’t make excuses for their mistake, rather they acknowledge that yes, they made a mistake and they express openly what lesson they have learned from that mistake. They go on to express steps 3 and 4 below.
3. Fix them: Good leaders do what it takes to rectify their wrongs. They are willing to do whatever they can to fix the problem and make it right. Certainly there are times when the damage is done and recompense cannot be made, but good leaders do their very best to repair whatever damage has been done to the best of their ability. They always establish a timeline with follow up for when the problem will be fixed and make sure that progress is communicated so that everyone feels the urgency and care with which they are correcting the problem.
4. Put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated again: This is the most critical step in the learning process. When a mistake has clearly been made, the most important thing a leader can do is figure out what safety nets and roadblocks can be carefully established to ensure that this same mistake will never take place again. Good leaders help others learn from their mistake so that they don’t have to experience them on their own to gain the lesson.
5. Create a learning culture: Great Leaders allow their people to make mistakes. They allow their people the freedom to make mistakes, to learn from them and to own the consequences.
Not all mistakes are good and sometimes the consequences are extreme, particularly where injury or something even worse is the result. We are not advocating that mistakes are trivialized. What we are saying is that mistakes are inevitable and as leaders we need to deal with them – those of our own making and those made by those we lead.
It takes courage to handle mistakes appropriately and through them we become wiser leaders and an even greater asset to our organization.

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