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How can you learn from your mistakes if you won’t admit you made one?

Learning from mistakes

“Learn from your mistakes.” You’ve heard the saying a million times. It’s a valuable expression. Our mistakes and failures (hopefully few and far between) provide excellent learning opportunities. They give us insights about what won’t work and leave us one step closer to finding the solutions that will work. The problem is, many of us fail to acknowledge when we have made a mistake. Instead, we look to spread the blame elsewhere instead of taking accountability ourselves. Below are 5 steps you can take to make sure you and your team learn from your mistakes.

1.) Practice relentless honesty when it comes to self-evaluation

The first step to learning from our mistakes is to admit that we have made one. For leaders, there are two categories of mistakes. One, those made by you, yourself. Two, those made by your team. The key is to bring all mistakes, both those made by yourself and your team under the same umbrella, and treat them all as mistakes made by you. In other words, when things go wrong, you should always be asking yourself two questions. One, “What could and should I have done differently?” Two, “What are we going to do moving forward?” Leadership requires relentless honesty when it comes to self-evaluation. It also requires action.

2.) Be aware of your communication

Remember, your team looks to you. They watch and observe how you respond to certain situations. Your attitudes, behaviors and actions go a long way in establishing the culture in your organization. If you’re constantly blaming others in emails, meetings and in passing, they’ll notice. Of course, it’s not a direct certainty that they’ll do the same just because you do. However, if you hold yourself accountable and are open and honest about your own mistakes, it’s much more likely they will act similarly.

3.) Avoid a culture of fear

Some companies do not tolerate any type of mistake. One mistake and you’re reprimanded in front of the whole team. Or even worse, one failure and you’re out! Your team has no time or room to honestly assess their own mistakes under such circumstances. They’re too busy fearing for their job. They’re focused on avoiding blame and figuring out who can take the fall instead. Would you rather your team fear for their job or learn from the mistakes they have or may make in in the future?

4.) Bring mistakes away from the corner

Mistakes are too often kept isolated in the corner. Meaning, the parties involved may quietly take accountability and then work out the solution within their little unit. This of course, is much better than avoiding blame and pointing fingers at others. Still, there is more that can be achieved.

Think back to a time when your days and weeks were spent sitting in a classroom. I’m sure you remember hearing your teacher saying something like, “Don’t be afraid to raise your hand. If you have a question, it’s likely someone else in the room is struggling with the same thing.” It’s the same situation in the business world. If one individual or team has made a mistake, it’s likely another team has or could make the same mistake in the future. The team that quietly resolves their mistake amongst themselves does no benefit to the rest of the organization.

Instead, you should create a culture that encourages open, upfront dialogue about mistakes so others in the company can learn as well.

5.) Putting this into action

Remember, leadership requires an honest self-assessment of yourself. Whether a mistake was made by you or someone else on the team, always ask yourself, “What could and should I have done differently?” Make sure you’re not consistently pointing fingers when communicating with your team. Instead, be open and honest about any mistakes you have made. This will encourage your team members to do the same and help create a culture of accountability. Bring mistakes out into the open. If one team member is struggling with something, it’s likely someone else is too. Lastly, always have a plan of action for correcting a mistake. Identify what went wrong, the solution, and who’s going to take the lead in resolving the issue.


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