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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.

Leadership best practices: Modeling the behavior you want from your team

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to establish organizational culture. You have the opportunity to model the behavior you want from your team. How do you want your team to respond to challenges and delays in achieving success? Take some time to really think this through. Also, take a step back and honestly assess your own behavior when faced with similar situations. Do your actions align with how you want your team to respond to obstacles and setbacks? Below are 5 behaviors you should always practice as a leader.

1.) Always maintain a positive attitude and outlook

How do you respond to client complaints or even something more troublesome such as losing a client? It’s natural to get a little frustrated and discouraged in such situations. The key is to not let your emotions get the best of you. It’s imperative that you maintain a positive attitude and outlook no matter how dire the circumstance. Challenging situations and setbacks require action. There is no time to sit around and feel sorry for yourself. Remember, your team is watching how you respond so it’s a good idea to ask yourself how you would want them to act and then model that behavior. Here are some good guidelines to follow.

  • Acknowledge there is an issue and identify the cause
  • Make a plan for resolving the issue and figure out how much time is needed
  • Decide who is going to take care of it
  • Take action or delegate

2.) Focusing on what you can control

In life and in business there are many things outside of our control. The stock market could crash or your most important employee could win the lottery, leave the company and move to Hawaii. It doesn’t make sense to preoccupy yourself and spend too much time thinking about such things.

There are also things we can influence and things we can control. Your top performing employee could leave at any moment and join another company. Of course, you can’t control what they do but you can influence them by doing what you can to make their current situation as attractive as possible. That is something you can control.

You want your team to focus on what they can control.

3.) Perseverance and GRIT

Perseverance is defined as, “Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” According to many, possessing this single trait is a key predictor of success or lack thereof. Undoubtedly, you are going to experience setbacks in whatever you do as great achievements are not accomplished overnight. Remember this when things aren’t moving as quickly as you’d like or expected. Remember and remind yourself and your team that perseverance is a key element of success. Take pride in your ability to continue pushing forward in the face of difficulties and acknowledge that you are one step closer to achieving what you set out to do.

4.) Remaining cool, calm and collected under pressure

Good leaders stay cool, calm and collected when things don’t go according to plan. Think about Bill Belichick and the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. Coach Belichick is known for his calm demeanor on the sidelines. He rarely shows emotion, good or bad. Down 10 heading into the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, there was Belichick, calm as ever on the sideline. His team demonstrated similar poise, rallying from behind to win their 4th title under the coach.

How do you respond to pressure? Better yet, how would your team say you respond to pressure?

5.) Work ethic

Your commitment, how hard you work, and how many hours you put in are certainly things you can control! They’re also things your team is aware of. If you’re coming in late, leaving early, and taking extended breaks, eventually they will begin to do the same. If you work unreasonably long hours, this can intimidate and discourage your team. The key for showing commitment is dependability, conscientiousness, paying attention to the development of others – employees as well as employees/co-workers – and also ensuring you have time for yourself and your own development. If you want your team to be committed then you need to be too. That’s easy!

The takeaway

As a leader, you have the power to create the organizational culture that will allow your company to thrive. All you have to do is model the behavior you want from your team. In order to do this you need to define what type of culture you want to create. How do you want your team to act? You also need to honestly assess your own attitudes, actions and behaviors. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done as we often have a misperception about ourselves. Personal assessments are a great option to help you gain a greater awareness about yourself.

Your team watches and adopts some of your behaviors. What are you willing to do to make sure you are modeling the behavior you want from your team?