Don't be wrong

How to increase leadership effectiveness by making mistakes

Graham Andrewartha | Director| MCA group

Communicate effectively with your team.  This is one key aspect of increasing leadership effectiveness. In effect this means clearly articulating goals and expectations, providing regular feedback, and actively listening to the ideas and concerns of others. Additionally, be adaptable and willing to learn from both successes and failures. It is your leadership mistakes that teach you the most.

Lewis Thomas, in Medusa and the Snail, writes, “Mistakes are at the very base of human thought.  If we were not provided with the knack of being wrong, we could never get anything useful done. We think our way along by choosing between right and wrong alternatives, and the wrong choices have to be made as frequently as the right ones. We get along in life this way. We are built to make mistakes, coded for error.”

Mistakes make the leader better, not worse.

“Mistakes are part of the learning process,” says Michael Houlihan. “Not every decision you make will be correct, but if you learn from your mistakes, you’re likely to make better decisions in the future. Not only that, but you can share the lessons learned with your team to help them become better leaders.”

If you look up mistakes and leadership you will only see a long list of how mistakes are bad and costly. But why do we only see them as bad? In fact, it’s like a carpenter trying to build a house without ever making mistakes. Without being able to make and fix mistakes, the carpenter would never be able to get the job done.

Similarly leaders get the job done through learning from their mistakes. Kathryn Schulz in her book, Being Wrong, made some potent observations about mistakes and leadership. “It is alarmingly easy to impute error to those whose beliefs and backgrounds differ from our own,” and, “When other people reject our beliefs, we think they lack good information. When we reject their beliefs, we think we possess good judgment.”

Errors and leadership development

Descartes said error was not believing something that isn’t true, but was believing something based on insufficient evidence.

Schulz observed the English word “erratic,” is used to describe movement that is unpredictable or aimless. And, of course, it gave us “error.” From the beginning, then, the idea of error has contained a sense of motion: of wandering, seeking, going.  Consider wandering to find the truth.

I was working with a CEO who wanted to change her fear of making mistakes. Carole was scared that any progress she made would be set back by a wrong decision or miscalculation. What if she made mistakes and things didn’t turn out the way she expected them to? Through a gradual leadership development process we considered her past mistakes and successes and also reviewed the ‘mistakes’ of others.  Soon Carole came to see that without the capacity for being wrong, little growth could be achieved. This increased her self confidence and her comfort with learning by trial and error.

Failure, or?

Failure is an essential step in the process of discovery.

Steve Jobs once said “Some mistakes will be made along the way, that’s good, because at least some decisions are being made along the way. We’ll find the mistakes, we’ll fix them.”

Ask yourself these three questions when you review each failure:

  • What lessons did I learn from this situation?
  • What are three positive outcomes of this situation?
  • How has this experience allowed me to grow as a person?

How many of us are instantly skeptical about these questions? Why? What is our investment in always being right?

Don't be wrong  If you would like to be more open to learning from your mistakes please contact us by phone on 1300 856 480 or by email