How to reflect on your mistakes

If you are up to big things, you are likely to make mistakes. You could always avoid tripping up by playing a small game, but it will ultimately rob you of satisfaction. It is more fulfilling to set big objectives and expect to make some mistakes along the way. Successful leaders see mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.

Virginia learned a lot from what seemed like a small mistake. She failed to produce a report by the date she had agreed. She had a perfectly reasonable excuse; competing priorities came up and she ran out of time. In any case, it did not seem that important to her. But her team members, who were depending on her, were not happy. Neither was her boss, who was not satisfied with her excuse. He let her know that it was not acceptable and asked her to think about what she could learn from the experience.

She was initially in denial. He was to blame for giving her competing priorities. She was doing her best with little support and so on. But to her credit, she soon realised that it would not move things forward if she rehashed her excuse or blamed others. She was willing to consider the question, what was missing that she did not produce the report as promised?

After all, she viewed herself as a person of high integrity; someone who could be counted on to do what she said. It was one of her key values in her personal charter. But she realised that what was missing was that she did not see herself as integral to the team. She had a very successful career to date as a solo subject matter expert and now, as she moved into leadership, she was struggling with the transition from me to us. She had been willing to let herself off the hook with reasonable excuses, with little thought of the impact on her team. On the other hand, she had high expectations of them to be accountable for their promises.

If she was to be a successful leader, she needed to demonstrate the level of integrity that she expected from others. Otherwise, she would be perceived as well meaning, but ineffective. She learned that she had to be unreasonable by holding herself accountable to make big things happen and to be in communication with those around her.

Mark Chussil, in the book Nice Start, quotes Sivasailam Thiagarajan (a.k.a. Thiagi) as saying, “…people don’t learn from experience. If they did, why would we keep making the same mistakes? People learn, Thiagi says, by reflecting on experience.”

Virginia learned a valuable lesson by reflecting on what was missing. She is now a role model of a leader who sets high standards for both herself and those around her.

Could you reflect on what’s missing when mistakes occur?

Best regards, Brian

Click here to grab your copy of Leadership Is Changing the Game — The Transition from Technical Expert to Leader

Originally published at on November 27, 2019.

I help leaders build their influence and achieve stretch results.

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Brian Donovan

Brian Donovan

I help leaders build their influence and achieve stretch results.

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