Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Learn From Your Mistakes

What Mistakes Are You Making?

By Bob Gass 

Words of the wise… should be heard… (Ecclesiastes 9:17, NKJV)

It's a mistake not to ask yourself, 'What mistakes am I making?' One leader writes: 'I gave little thought to what might go wrong. I assumed that the 'right way' would be mistake-free. I did not acknowledge mistakes I made to myself, or others. I was not learning from my mistakes. If I wanted to become a better leader, I would have to stop making the mistake of not asking what mistake I was making.' It's not the number of mistakes you make; it's how often you keep making the same mistake. If you want to turn your mistakes to your advantage:

1) Admit your mistakes. Why don't we? Pride: we've an image to uphold. Insecurity: our self-worth is based on our performance. Stubbornness: we'd rather flog a dead horse than bury it and get a new one. Here's a news flash: People already know about your mistakes. When you admit them they're not surprised, they're relieved. They say, 'Phew! He knows. Now we can quit pretending!'

2) Accept mistakes as the price of progress. Learn to view failure as a healthy, inevitable part of succeeding. Nothing's perfect in life - including you! So get used to it.

3) Insist on learning from your mistakes. When you try to avoid failure at all costs, you never learn, and you end up repeating the same mistakes over and over. Those who are willing to learn from their failures don't have to keep repeating them. Author William Saroyan observed, 'We get very little wisdom from success. Learn from science. In science, mistakes always precede the discovery of truth.'

Don't be afraid to ask yourself, 'What am I missing? What do I not know yet?' Some people expect nothing but trouble; they're pessimistic so they don't look for anything good. But others have a tendency to assume everything is good. Both kinds of thinking can hurt you. Elisabeth Elliot, author of All That Was Ever Ours, points out, 'All generalisations are false including this one; yet we keep making generalisations. We create images; graven ones that can't be changed. We dismiss or accept people, products, programmes and propaganda according to the labels they come under. We know a little about something, and we treat it like we know everything.' Learn to be more discerning! It's easy to make decisions based on what you know, but there are always things you don't know.

It's easy to choose a direction based on what you see, but what don't you see? We learn only when we're willing to ask, 'What am I missing?' That question causes you, and those around you, to stop and think. It's easy to see what's obvious, but asking tough questions brings to the surface things that aren't obvious. Not asking questions is to assume that a project is potentially perfect and that if it's handled with care, there will be no problems. You learn in life, often painfully, that this simply isn't reality. Two things will stop you dead in your tracks: a) over analysing to the point that you're paralysed and afraid to act b) under analysing and moving ahead before you have sufficient knowledge and the wisdom to implement it.

A sign in a high-pressure sales office brings a smile: 'Do you like to travel? Do you want to meet new friends? Do you want to free up your future? All this can be yours if you make one more mistake.' Fear of making mistakes keeps us from reaching our highest potential, from seeking honest counsel and feedback, and from speaking out lest we become criticised or abandoned. To be successful you must give the people around you permission to push back. When you don't get input it can be disastrous. In It's Your Ship, Michael Abrashoff writes: 'The moment I heard about it [the tragic sinking of a Japanese fishing boat off Honolulu by the submarine USS Greenville], I was reminded that, as is often the case with accidents, someone senses possible danger but doesn't actually speak up.

As the Greenville investigation unfolded, I read in a New York Times article that the submarine's crew 'respected the Commanding Officer too much to question his judgement.' If that's respect, then I want none of it. You need to have people that can tap you on your shoulder and say, 'Is this the best way?' or 'Slow down,' or 'Think about this,' or 'Is what we are doing worth killing or injuring somebody?' History records countless incidents in which ship captains or organisation managers permitted a climate of intimidation to pervade the workplace, silencing subordinates whose warnings could have prevented disaster. Even when the reluctance to speak up stems from admiration for the Commanding Officer's skill and experience, a climate to question decisions must be created in order to foster double-checking.'

One day King Zedekiah said to the prophet Jeremiah, "I will ask you something. Hide nothing from me" (Jeremiah 38:14 NKJV). Zedekiah displayed wisdom we don't display often enough. One author writes: 'I changed from someone who avoids potentially bad news to someone who invites it. For many years I've given permission to members of my inner circle to ask me hard questions and give me their opinion when they disagree with me. I don't ever want to make a mistake, and then hear a team member say, "I thought that was going to be a bad decision." I want people to tell me up front, not after it's too late for their advice to help. Pushback before a decision is made is never disloyalty. You need to give them permission to ask hard questions and pushback against your ideas. That decision must be given to others by the leader. Too often leaders would rather have followers who turn a blind eye instead of ones who speak with a blunt tongue. But if all is quiet when decisions are being considered, it probably won't be quiet after it plays out.' Sir Francis Bacon observed, 'If a person will begin with certainties, he will end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he will end in certainties.' Job said, 'Men listened to me and waited, and kept silence for my counsel' (Job 29:21 NKJV). You must constantly ask yourself: What is my attitude toward mistakes? Am I owning up to my mistakes? Am I learning from them? Do I get the best input possible?

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