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Leadership Learning Moments: Learning From Mistakes

February 23, 2015

Leadership Learning Moments is a three part blog series that walks leaders through the process of making mistakes (or as I like to call them, learning moments) with confidence.

As a leader, you will make mistakes – sometimes more often than you would like to admit. It’s part of being human and being a leader. Seldom when you are asked about a leadership characteristic or to define what leadership means to you does the word “mistake” come up. Why, as leaders, are we not being taught how to confront making mistakes and how to work through the process? So when you have made a mistake, what do you do next? This three-step technique will help you through the mistake-making process.

  1. Admit
  2. Learn
  3. Recover

Learn: the best thing you can do is grow from mistakes – all of them.

There is no easy way to learn from mistakes that will work every time. However, there are some strategies you can use to learn from your mistakes that will work in various situations most of the time.

  • Stop thinking of your mistake as a failure. Mistakes can shape us as people and leaders – either positively or negatively. The good news is that we get to decide which one. Of course, the intensity of need for this depends on the size of the mistake and the size of injury caused to the team or organization, but the principles still apply in context.
  • Be forgiving. Maintain perspective and don’t take the learning moment too seriously. Changing the outlook on a mistake can make it less threatening to recognize when you’re responsible or partially responsible. And that makes you more able to learn from your mistake.
  • See what you can change. Look at the situation as a whole in terms of what you can change. Viewing your responsibility through the lens of personal control—what can you change next time? what do you have control over?—makes learning from your mistake an empowering experience.

So the most important lesson in all of mistake-making is to trust that while mistakes are inevitable, if you can learn from the current one, you’ll also be able to learn from future ones. No matter what happens tomorrow, you’ll be able to get value from it, and apply it to the day after that.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison


Nycci Jones, Learning and Development Consultant, Nelnet Partner Solutions

Nycci Jones, Learning and Development Consultant, Nelnet Partner Solutions

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