Issue Number 43: Leaders Admit Mistakes – Part 1

I am not young enough to know all the answers.

I have made plenty of mistakes and almost, but not quite, relished the opportunity to admit them. It has allowed me to let others know by example that I did not expect them to be perfect, but I did expect them to admit when they made a mistake, learn from it and move on.

The more aggressive members of your organization may consider someone’s willingness to admit mistakes as weakness, or try to use admitted mistakes as weapons. They’ll use it as an opportunity to look down their noses at you, like our friend in the photo. If you allow them to win the day, you are in trouble.

People will not admit their mistakes if they have to defend themselves for doing so. Allowing people to revisit old mistakes and reopen old issues keeps you and your organization mired in the past while your competition is moving ahead.

One healthy way of looking at mistakes is to redefine them. Thomas Edison’s philosophy provides a great example. Edison was an American inventor, scientist and businessman who, with his team, invented the phonograph, the motion picture camera and the light bulb, among many other things. Known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” he turned invention into a business, and created the first industrial research laboratory. He held over 1,000 U.S. patents during his lifetime, along with several patents in other countries.

Along the way he made a lot of mistakes, but he defined them in positive terms. When asked about his many failures, he responded: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

If Edison can redefine mistakes, we can too.

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