Making Mistakes Can (Sometimes) Be Great

making mistakes can sometimes be greatDo you ever lie awake, stewing over something you’ve done incorrectly, how you dropped the ball, or had a hand in failure, perhaps because you simply didn’t know what you didn’t know? My guess is that like most of us, you’ve experienced such struggles in your lifetime even as a highly disciplined accountability leader because making occasional mistakes happens to the best of us. No one, including the greatest of leaders, is perfect. As hard as we may try, we’re sometimes going to mess up, and we certainly can’t control everything in spite of our stellar commitment or efforts to do everything right. In fact, making a mistake can sometimes be quite powerful—but in a good way. How’s that? Regardless of whether you’re focusing on the growth and the betterment of you, your people, the organization at large or all of the above, sometimes getting things wrong is the necessary catalyst for real growth and sustainable change. So if you don’t already share this point of view, shift your thinking about success and failure. View your “uh-ohs,” errors and possible blind-sightedness as stepping-stones that may get you closer to where you ultimately want to be.

To help maintain this shift in perspective, keep these points in mind:

Learning can look messy. And real learning—the best kind—commonly involves taking one step forward, two steps back, or maybe a step sideways, before moving forward again. Sometimes, it ain’t pretty and can feel downright messed up and ugly. Yet the process is one that demands, among other things, time, curiosity, patience, humility, sense of humor and commitment. It also requires, above all, the ability to admit that as you’ve come up short, “failed” or have gotten something wrong. It calls for being real and vulnerable while honoring the vital need for courageous change and then implementing this change to get things right and progress more productively toward your goals.

Add-on successes do matter. If you’ve ever worked in any kind of retail, you know that add-on sales, be they fashion accessories, extra pizza toppings, or upgraded car features, all matter in terms of growing company sales and overall profitability. Savvy business owners get it—they recognize the value of the small stuff, which over time adds up and contributes to a healthier bottom line. Likewise, when you consistently note the value of small successes in your business, viewing them as important assets rather than something to discount or take for granted, you’ll find these small successes do matter over time. Acknowledging them, for example, by highlighting when things are going right with your people, their performance, productivity and even processes, build morale and reinforce activities and mindsets that drive and result in excellence. In that way, many minute victories, when clearly recognized and thus reinforced, add up and contribute over time to the bigger win. So as we talk about in MAP’s recent book, “The Disciplined Leader,” find ways to spot and celebrate small successes, making this practice a new habit.

Mistakes may be a gift. There’s nothing like coming up against lessons learned and some hard-earned experiences. But these can be valuable “gifts” if we recognize them as such and consider them as viable triggers for change. After realizing this herself, one MAP client actually told her people, “Congratulations team—we made a big mistake—and everyone needs to celebrate it!” The company had lost a time-intensive, major business contract. But instead of getting down in the dumps, this leader pushed everyone to start exploring other opportunities for growth. Not long after losing that contract, the company learned the market it would have invested in dried up and died. The lost contract ended up being a blessing in disguise—and ultimately something worth celebrating. What’s more, the entire experience of it all was a great gift, a teaching moment for this leader and her people who came to not fear mistakes and failure.

How do you forgive yourself when you find you’re falling short of your goals?

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