Learning From Our Mistakes
“I learned that good judgment comes from experience and that experience grows out of mistakes.”
Omar Bradley, General, U.S. Army
This quotation caught my attention. I began to think about it and about how I had made more than a few mistakes along the pathway to where I am today. That got me to thinking about how I deal with subordinates who make mistakes, and how my bosses used to deal with me in similar circumstances.
We all can benefit from the understanding guidance that comes from good leaders. True, there may be a monetary cost associated with the mistakes that occur along the way, but the judgment that can flow as a result of a mistake and its handling by our superiors is invaluable. It usually more than makes up for whatever was lost as the result of that earlier mistake.
I believe that I have likely benefitted more from a form of tough love than I did from a mild remonstrance. The tough love, of course, had to be received from a person whom I respected and from a person whom I knew respected me even though he or she was perturbed with me at the time…and for good reason.
There were times, of course, when I was not as responsive to correction as I should’ve been, and there were times when my superior came back to me after the hurt and embarrassment had subsided to remind me of what I should have learned from the occurrence. It is important to recognize that, as leaders, we must be good students of human nature. We must be able to recognize when the time is right, or wrong, for one of those ‘life lessons’. We must be able to let things calm down a bit before going back to the subordinate to help him or her benefit as much as possible from that most recent mistake.
Among the things we need to remember, of course, is that a tirade never really gets much of a result other than for demonstrating that we’re not always in control of our temper or ourselves. We need to remember that every action from us, both those that are good and those that are not-so-good, are remembered by our subordinates.
While our subordinates need to be able to learn from their mistakes, so too must we continue to learn from ours. If we realize we have over-reacted, we need to be big enough to admit that and to apologize. If there were others present when we made that mistake, they ought to be present when we admit that we made it. They need to know that we, as leaders, are big enough and secure enough in our own skins that we can admit when we are wrong.
I’m pretty sure that General Bradley knew he was never so wise as to have gotten beyond making the occasional mistake…even though he had stars on his collar. None of us are perfect, no matter our position in the company, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot learn from our mistakes as well as anyone else in the company. Setting such an example for others will make you seem to your employees to be fair, just and human. That is a good way to be seen by those in your employ. And it feels good, too.
Tom Krist – President