Have you ever had that icky feeling that comes when you know you’ve made a mistake? A beautiful concoction of anxiety, guilt, shame, humility and anger – at least this is typically what shows up in my cocktail. Mistakes happen – systems issues, process slips, political misjudgments, interpersonal breakdowns… And it’s never easy.
We hear it all the time: the best learning comes from mistakes. And when we fail to learn from mistakes, failure sets in. But trying to glean that learning is a bit like trying to find a marble in a field of grass that hasn’t been mowed in a month… when you’re IN it, it sucks.
Last week I made a mistake, an interpersonal mess actually, and I am reminded of how critical that moment is: once the realization hits that you could have and should have done something differently. This moment-in-time is the proverbial fork in the road. It’s the choice point between truly embracing a learner mindset or going straight downhill towards the sh*t-pit.
And let me tell you, the sh*t-pit is no fun. It’s filled with self-doubt, blame and shame – all mindsets that actually inhibit learning… so if we really want to glean the learning, it starts with giving yourself some grace… to be vulnerable and courageous enough to admit it, digest it and learn from it.
And what does this mean for leadership?
As a leader you have the ability to shape that learning moment for your employees. It’s also a choice point for you. Will you jump to blame or judgment, or will you pause and inquire to help facilitate the learning? (And, by the way, “Why did you do that?” isn’t true inquiry… it’s judgment disguised as a question!).
A miss I commonly see with leaders is not giving the time required to debrief mistakes… thinking that asking “what would you do differently next time?” is enough. To truly deepen the learning, and build competence and resilience, takes asking some powerful questions. These are questions that serve to deepen awareness and advance learning, questions like:
- What is it like for you to have made this mistake?
- What are the impacts – good and bad of having made this mistake?
- Tell me about the learning you’re doing as a result of this mistake.
- Where else might this learning relevant for you?
Mistakes can be a breeding ground for learning. It starts with getting curious and asking the right questions.
Where have you learned from mistakes? Any stories to share?
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