In the past two weeks, two guest posts were published discussing the topic of leadership and mistakes. Two people who don’t know each other and two people from different points in their careers. Within each, valid themes and insights arise.

Leading and Mistakes

To Err Is Human: How Good Leaders Handle Mistakes

How to Handle Common Leadership Mistakes?

Leading through mistakes is an important ability to enrich. We are all human, and at times, some command-and-control leaders forget this fact.

Being human means we will make mistakes and, when we do, we need to enter into a conversation with empathy, learning, and a process orientation. Each of these three will deliver a stronger culture and leader.

Empathy:  Strengthen Culture and Leaders

Empathy is an essential leadership skill. When mistakes happen, empathy is a skill that enables us to listen for the reasons of why something did not happen in the desired way.

Most people (95%+, in my opinion) don’t want to make mistakes. People are designed to make a positive impact yet some unfortunate things happen because of eagerness, an unexpected event, another’s actions, or just some other unplanned or incomplete action.

Empathetic leadership means we listen closely to the people telling the story of what happened when, how, and why. We listen for moments when things went awry. We watch facial expressions and tone to assess disappointment, concern, and spirit to learn and correct.

An empathetic leader is not a weak one. Just the opposite. A leader with extraordinary strength will fight the urge to chide or take an immediate reaction of a Trump moment of “You’re fired!” An empathetic leader listens for ways to guide, identify lessons to learn, and improvement opportunities. Most importantly, an empathetic leader asks questions so the individuals involved will self-identify ways to improve.

When mistakes happen for leaders and team members, having a healthy sense of empathy and taking actions aligned with this proficiency will make everyone stronger.

Learning:  Strengthen Culture and Leaders

Strengthen CultureWe can easily tell who is a leader with a growth mindset. They are the ones eager to learn. Within these leaders, there is a curiosity to understand and a compassion for those involved in situations that have taken people and projects down unintended paths. Again, this isn’t being weak; it is taking opportunities presented to learn, grow, and enable people and organizations to get better in all that they do.

Leaders with a fixed mindset are the ones who will approach mistakes made with a fault-finding, demeaning tone. They will take the learning moment of mistakes and turn it into a moment where they can exhibit some false position of superiority. When this happens, all breaks down.

When mistakes happen for leaders and team members, approaching them as opportunities to find “what can be learned?” and the areas to grow makes all the difference in whether or not a culture is an open one, willing to use missteps as a way to strengthen and adapt.

Process: Strengthen Culture and Leaders

There is one phrase that continues to circle me like a mosquito looking for blood. Thanks to Dr. Henry Cloud, the phrase is “Go hard on the issue and soft on the person.” Yes, we are imperfect. Yes, processes can prevent some mistakes from happening. We need to focus diligently on the process while engaging the individuals to enhance their skills and insights.

When mistakes happen, understanding what broke down should be at the forefront of our questioning. When mistakes happen, thinking through how to change processes and checkpoints is essential. Incorporating into the conversations the human element becomes more about what knowledge can be gained and what training can assist in further leadership and skill development.

When mistakes happen for leaders and team members, the conversation should start with the process and then move to “what can be changed?” Identifying skill development is essential, too. Training and development is a process, too. Learning is ongoing and designed with checkpoints along the way.

Culture Is Core

In all this, there is one element that is crystal clear. How mistakes are engaged is all about culture.

  • Do you have a culture of encouraged learning?
  • Do you have a culture gaining in strength through what is learned in successes and mistakes?
  • Do you have a culture embracing training and development in real identifiable ways?

Leaders need to embrace empathy, learning, and process mindsets to overcome their own mistake-prone ways and engage with others when similar situations happen. By doing so, a better organizational culture will unfold and develop.

I am a leader who makes mistakes. I am a leader who wants to learn from my mistakes. I am a leader who wants to grow and I want all the people around me to grow, too. We work in an imperfect world and we need to always learn, grow, and adapt in our imperfect world. This is a call for leadership refreshed!

Image source: Veer, rights reserved.

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