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Mistakes: The Unexpected Leadership Gift

learning styles Apr 20, 2022

If you see the word “mistake”, what is your first reaction? Are mistakes something you dread? Do they keep you up at night? Everybody makes mistakes. And mistakes are quite likely to occur as we navigate the complexities of relationship and communication. If we step back and look at the mistakes we’ve made, we may notice patterns. The common things that typically trip us up are insecurities, frustrations or impulsive reactions. 

I fell into a trap recently that is all too common for me. I get excited about a new possibility or even a problem that is screaming to be solved. Then, I dive in quickly with my 2-cents. As I leapt forward in a meeting, I didn’t realize I was causing angst in others until one brave soul spoke up. My heart sank. I realized, at that moment, I had done it again. It’s a pattern that I’ve seen in myself before.

In such a moment, we might feel the weight of the mistake. Most mistakes are easy to recover from in a relationship through a sincere apology and an authentic conversation. It’s the internal recovery journey, however, that can sometimes take a little longer.

Guilt can trigger an internal reaction that begins with picking apart all the things that went wrong which we believe we could have done better.  The internal questioning and self-doubt gets bigger, even as the external relationship issue may be resolved. The internal questioning or self doubt can lead us to retreat and as a result we might not step forward next time when it’s needed.

Mistakes Serve as a Beautiful Gift

Mistakes bring the gift of humility if we don’t let guilt rob us. It’s not about retreating, instead, it's about re-engaging in a new way. Seeing mistakes as learning transforms the circling thoughts. By choosing not to ruminate on what you did or didn’t do right the emotions triggered by self-judgment are diffused. Now you can introduce new thoughts and instead reflect on who you are becoming on the journey. That’s the space where learning happens.

Try out these questions to engage this space where learning happens. Our learning style blog series has focused on how we can grow based on how we are motivated to learn. This is also true as we engage our learning styles in this reflection exercise to learn from mistakes. 

Guide Your Reflection to Learn from Mistakes

Strategic Thinkers: Think about it deeply to get at the root

  • What do I notice about myself in this situation?
  • What patterns do I see in this mistake with other mistakes I’ve experienced?
  • What is my growth goal that is emerging from my observations?

Problem Solvers: Sort out what happened to find the opportunity

  • How does this situation highlight where I want to grow?
  • What makes it important to grow that area in myself?
  • What will be different if I take advantage of this opportunity?

Bridget Builders: Explore emerging opportunities to grow

  • What “set the stage” within myself for this mistake-making moment?
  • How are my values emerging as I reflect on the situation?
  • How do I want to live congruently with my values going forward?

Compassionate Connectors: Understand what I need

  • What thoughts and feelings emerge as I reflect on the moment?
  • How do these show me which of my values matter in that moment? 
  • How do I want that “value'' to contribute to similar situations in the future?

Next Steps:

Growth doesn’t excuse a behavior,  Growth moves you forward leading you to better  understand yourself so that you can become more of who you want to be today and in the future.

  1. Apologize and make right. Without the apology, the guilt that lies below the surface can direct your thoughts into spinning circles. Once you apologize, then give yourself grace and guard your self-talk.
  2. Reflect through the lens of growth not guilt. Ask all three questions (see above) for your best-fit learning style. Don’t get stuck in the mistake, instead journal, discuss or reflect on integrating the lessons learned from the mistake into who you are becoming.
  3. Choose your growth goal. Avoid the temptation to choose a goal focused on doing it right and not making that same mistake again. That’s a retreat goal based on guilt, not a learning goal based on growth. Instead identify and take a realistic and achievable step toward developing your leadership presence – how you want others around you to experience you. 

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It’s the compounding of learning over time through small steps that has the biggest impact on who we are becoming as a person and a leader. And, remember, it’s not just a reflection process you can use to walk yourself through mistakes, you can also use it as a tool to help your team to walk through their own mistakes as well. Looking for a partner to walk you through this journey? Let's schedule a 27 minute strategy session and make the most of your “growth” moment and turn that mistake into a gift to yourself as a leader.

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