Leadership is Making Better Mistakes


Some people believe that we become leaders by avoiding mistakes. Leaders are somehow able to predict the future, to see around corners and find our path forward. They become leaders by not making mistakes, and then lead us forward past any potential errors.

I have thought that way myself.

We say that “to err is human.” We also say that “we learn from our mistakes.” Then we go out of our way to distance ourselves from any perceived mistake. Apparently we do not want anyone to think that we might actually be human; we want to make sure that we do not learn anything.

Leaders do not become great by setting a safe course and avoiding errors.

The leaders who inspire me reach to put their core values and vision into practice in innovative ways. They set bold, challenging goals and the people who work with them struggle to meet them. They do not merely replicate what has already been done, they blaze new trails.

Leadership is not repeating the mistakes of the past. Leadership is seeing things in new ways and experimenting with approaches that have not been tried before.

Leadership is inventing new mistakes and applying the lessons they teach us.

Leaders recognize that they do not know whether an action will be effective until they try it. If an act does not accomplish what we expect, it is not a mistake or a failure unless we refuse to learn from it.

There is tremendous value in setting goals beyond our reach and stretching to meet them. We discover hidden depths as we reach beyond our grasp.

We are human, and we do learn.

What do your mistakes tell people about you?

How will you make better mistakes this week than you did last week?

[Image by seier+seier]

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  • http://www.tweetconnection.com Samantha

    Another great post Greg.

    We ALL make mistakes. It’s simply part of our human nature. And it’s necessary so that we may learn and grow.

    Personally, I still struggle with that internal voice that says ‘you will be punished if you even breathe wrong!’ Due to the environment I grew up in. I was terrified of making mistakes or messing up in any way. If I did, I was severely punished.

    It has taken me YEARS of conscious effort to loosen that iron grip in my life. It can still rear it’s ugly head now and again if I perceive someone else (even incorrectly) having an expectation that I must be perfect in order to be accepted or approved of in some way, or loved. etc.

    I try to be as forgiving of others mistakes as I can be. It certainly helps that if someone else’s mistakes has adversely impacted me in some way, they would have the willing desire to make the effort to correct it and restore harmony to the relationship. Whether that is personal or work. Yet, that isn’t always the case.

    Then we work through things the best we can in our own hearts and move on. With as much of an open heart and mind as we can. As I can.

    Thanks for sharing another thought-provoking post Greg. : )

    • Strategic Monk

      Thank you, Samantha!

      I share and appreciate your struggle. It is most challenging for me to learn to live with my own expectations of myself. Slowly but surely, my belief in the “wisdom of making mistakes” is deepening my understanding.

      Thank you for sharing, Sam.

  • http://arnitawiilistaylor.com/eight Arnita Taylor

    Great post Greg,

    It is pivotal for leaders to embrace life long learning! At one point in my career, I presumed that all leaders were able to learn from mistakes. Then, I experienced a setting that was paralyzed by mistakes. The paralysis prevented learning from occurring because the fear was too prevalent. Great leaders understand risk and embrace learning like breathing. Thanks again.

    • Strategic Monk

      Thank you, Arnita.

      Yes! We get stuck when we are afraid to make a mistake, and stuck when we are afraid to learn from the mistakes we make. As we grow, we recognize that we hold ourselves to impossible standards, and appreciate what we gain from letting go.


  • http://mlleadership.com Marcy Field

    Hi Greg:

    I agree. It is time that we begin to “re-frame” how we view mistakes. Instead of believing they are failures & therefore bad, they are really neutral. What we do with a mistake determines their positive or negative value. As you’ve said, a willingness to make mistakes enables us to move beyond our current limits.



    • Strategic Monk

      Thank you, Marcy.

      Absolutely. Why does it feel so much better when we “try a new approach” or “test your limits” than it does when we “make a mistake?”

      Let’s see what will happen.