…is Your Last Mistake
What is your attitude towards failure? We ask this question, or a variation of it, many times when coaching leaders at all levels of an organization. Interestingly enough, we get more absolute answers from front line managers and supervisors and more broadly defined answers from senior management. Said differently, our experience tells us we see less leeway for failure on the front lines to the point of wanting to be stressfully perfect to a different attitude towards failure where it is a means to learn and grow. I am not suggesting these experiences are scientifically representative, merely what our experiences are with the topic. The question is, why the difference at all?
It’s amazing how frequently we hear about the lessons we learned from our mistakes along the pathway of life. Learning how to walk, riding a bike, driving a car and all the other things that people learn from doing, making mistakes and doing it again until it was a habit. Yet when it comes to work and the complexities and challenges that come with achieving desired results, those lessons are forgotten and the strive for perfection becomes the norm.
The leadership challenge is clear. How does the culture or the organization, which leaders are directly responsible for creating and maintaining, treat mistakes or failures? How do the leaders react when they hear of a mistake or failure within their organization? One of my standard practices as an executive when I heard of a mistake was threefold.
In his 2011 TED Talk, General Stanley McKrystal said, “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.” Mistakes are a part of the process and yet failure is really only an issue if nothing was learned from the mistake. The only failure is not learning from our mistakes, everything else is the best teacher we can have!
How do your leadership attitudes and behaviors help your team learn from their mistakes?