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5 Tips on How Great Leaders Handle Mistakes

No matter what level in organization you are at, you can contribute to the growth of the organization by using these 5 tips on how to handle mistakes.

Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

Do you know those people who rarely admit their own mistakes and at the same time are very critical to others? They also usually show huge disappointment if people are not performing up to their expectations. Bosses with these qualities usually tend to be very authoritarian and directive, and most people try to avoid working in their teams.

What about you? Would you prefer to be led by such a boss or rather a forgiving one who is OK with you making mistakes from time to time?

If you are managing people, you can find a few tips below on how to handle mistakes:

1. Great leaders are OK with mistakes to promote a culture of growth

According to Jason Jennings, great leadership speaker and author, one of the crucial things great leaders have in common is a concentration on constant growth. In my last blog post you can read about the difference between the sweet spot and the comfort zone. Where there is no movement out of the comfort zone, no risks taken, mistakes made, there is no growth.

What often makes great leaders are also great mistakes they made, at least at the beginning of their careers. If they had feared failure and stayed in their comfort zones without taking risks and trying out paths nobody else had yet taken, they would hardly be able to guide their companies to grow to become industry leaders.

2. Great leaders admit mistakes

Great leaders are able to admit mistakes to others openly without trying to deny or hide them.

Why it is so important to admit mistakes if you are leading others?

  • It shows you are also human and brings you closer to the team.

  • It shows you are trustworthy, even if you are not always right.

  • You are modelling for your team that mistakes are OK, if you respond to them.

  • It has a positive effect on the company culture. You promote a culture of trust and openness. People are not afraid to think out of the box and be creative.

3. Great leaders fail fast


“Failing fast” means that when you realize you made a mistake, you do your best to correct it as soon as possible. The opposite approach can have detrimental effects on the company. Imagine the leader who doesn’t tolerate any mistakes, is critical to others, and is demanding. What kind of culture does he promote within the company? The culture of fear. What would you do in such a culture, if you made a mistake?

My friend hired a company to build his own house. The house was almost finished when he realized that even though the team of electricians finished their work long ago, the electricity in the house was not working at all. It took the construction chief a long time to find out that when one of the bricklayers was correcting some of his mistakes on the outer wall of the house, he cut the electric cable placed inside it. Instead of telling somebody about the incident and asking the electrician to help him, he just placed a layer of plaster on the cut cable. At that moment, he feared the consequences of admitting his mistake in front of his chief more than the consequences not admitting it would have.

This story illustrates what can happen if it is in the company culture to punish mistakes. The mechanism is similar in a construction or production company, as well as in a family environment.

On the other hand, if you, as a leader, not only admit your mistakes as soon as you realize them, but also correct them, you model behavior that can save a lot of worries, money, and time.

And if you do not have a plan B on how to compensate for your own mistakes, you can encourage your team members to help you find it. By such a behavior, you show the team that it is more important to correct mistakes as soon as possible than to be the one to find the perfect solution to a problem.

4. Great leaders prevent mistakes

The most important role of a leader regarding mistakes management is to create a culture where mistakes are prevented and people can learn from best practices and the mistakes of others.

Great leaders understand the power of good preparation, as well as the power of “post mortem” discussions. Companies with those leaders invest their time and money into selection process to filter out the right talents and into supporting them to get well prepared for their future roles. They also have managers who coach people daily to perform up to their potential. In these organizations, you can see project teams involved in discussions where the team reflects on past projects and brainstorms about future opportunities. And most importantly, you see people helping each other get better by sharing information about best practices and lessons learned.

It can also happen that you might not be aware of mistakes you make, especially if these aren’t related to your results but to the way you achieve them and how you treat others. Great leaders understand the power of feedback and ask for it regularly to increase their self-awareness and develop their own skills. They also encourage others in the organization to do the same. One of the most common easy ways to do that is to seek what you should continue doing, what you should stop doing and what you should start doing or do more.

5. Great leaders choose trust over fear

The role of a leader isn’t to show others that making mistakes is fine, but to be ready for mistakes, be OK with them, and prevent them from happening in a way that empowers others. Micromanagement is usually motivated by fear of failure and lack of trust. If you have a tendency to tell others how to do their job, ask yourself what you are afraid of.

Sometimes, I am afraid that my daughter will hurt herself while experimenting on the playground. When I feel that fear, I tell myself I need to trust her that she knows her limits. Then I usually handle my fear silently while giving her almost invisible support while she tries to climb up the ropes.

The role of a leader is similar. While micromanagement is usually powered by fear and limits development of others and the organization, trust leads to empowerment and growth.

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It is often thanks to leaders who handle mistakes in ways described above and model these behaviors for others that organizations are set up for growth.

In these settings, you can meet people who:

  • learn from the mistakes of others,

  • invest their time into self-development,

  • help each other, work together as a team, and exchange feedback,

  • experiment and innovate,

  • take initiative,

  • talk openly about suggestions for improvement,

  • are engaged and empowered.

No matter what level in organization you are at, you can contribute to the growth of the organization by demonstrating the behaviors of great leaders.

Originally published at www.grow2lead.me

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