I don’t know about you but I have many, many priorities . . . and many, many people I’m personally responsible for. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact. Keeping track of different emails and texts can be a challenge, especially if people have common names and common phone numbers. And in the spur of the moment and needing to move on to my next task, I can quickly send off a message I believe is going to the ‘right’ person just to find out later it went to the ‘wrong’ person…OOPS! Can you say “ouch” and “double ouch”?!
“Screw-Ups” Can Haunt Us . . . If We Let Them
In my opinion, this “oops” can make me look and feel like a fool. And in my self-critical head – and most people’s – that’s really the only opinion that counts!
Admittedly, this “oops” happens much less than before. But it still stings my pride when it happens. I don’t like looking like I’m inept, incompetent, and don’t have my ‘house in order,’ ever!
Sending the ‘right’ email or text to the ‘wrong’ person or audience can create unnecessary confusion and even cause unnecessary anxiety. All of which could have been avoided if I were more careful and thoughtful.
So is my point to be more careful or thoughtful in everything you do? In a sense, yes, but the fact is we all make honest mistakes from time to time, even when we are careful. It’s how we “own” them and learn from our mistakes that count ten-fold more!
Why We “Fear” Owning Our Mistakes
I’ll be the first to admit, it can be very hard to “own” mistakes when they happen. To accept that we, ourselves, are the culprit and no one else is a difficult thing to do. It stings, literally.
The bottom line is that our ‘defenses’ come up much faster than our ‘own-ness’ when it comes to making mistakes. Why is this so?
- First of all, no one wants to look like a ‘fool,’ less competent than the rest. Who knows what might happen to peoples’ impression of us?
- We know deep down when we are wrong and when we make mistakes. It’s just painful to admit it because admitting it means we are saying to ourselves, ‘we are less than perfect.’ And although we know we have lots of imperfections, it still hurts when those ‘imperfections’ like a mistake show themselves on the outside for the ‘world to see.’ Ironically, even though we are all our own worst critic, it’s even worse when someone else ‘calls us out.’ More than ever, that’s when our defense screen goes up and the whole ’blame game’ and denial starts.
- And, last but not least, we may be afraid of the consequences of our mistakes. I call it the ‘rise of the dreaded what if’s’ instantly appear. What if they don’t like me anymore? What if I fail? What if I’m not respected? What if they discover who I really am? What if I get fired? What if they don’t give me another chance? What if they don’t promote me? Put all of those layers of ‘guilt and fear’ together and you can start to understand how admitting when we make mistakes is not easy and, for some, impossible.
Get the picture?
Believe me, I am the ‘chief’ of playing out the ‘what if’s’ around my mistakes. That said, I’ve learned to not allow my crazy ‘what if’s’ and fears to stop me from owning my mistakes. Mind you, I still have moments of ‘grudge’ and denial, but now they are only moments versus episodes as in the past.
Owning Mistakes & Learning from them Shows your Level of Maturity and Humility!
The bottom line is that your mistakes don’t really define you! Your good intent, your honesty, your values, your character, your maturity and humility do!
Mistakes are a natural part of growing. We didn’t learn how to ride a bike without a few skinned knees. So please, don’t let a few mistakes get in the way of you taking action, communicating, doing what’s right, stepping out of your comfort zone, taking risks, living out your calling, or whatever else you’d like to say or do! Said differently, go for it!
How to ‘Own Up’ and Learn from our Mistakes
Here’s a few critical steps to acceptance, ownership and growth.
- Your mistakes don’t ultimately define you! Believe it or not, we do tend to personalize everything, including our mistakes. We make them more than they need to be. Yes, there are ramifications to all of our mistakes, but what makes them better or worse is what we do afterwards. Personalizing them unto ourselves does nothing but hurt our belief we have in ourselves. STOP acting like your mistakes define you, they don’t!
- Own up to your mistakes as soon as possible. This is easier said than done because our first reaction is to deny we even made the mistake! Again, read the previous paragraphs as to why. But if you are able to mentally get there and admit to it, something ‘magical’ happens. Once you own your mistake . . . blame, denial and defenses are replaced by ‘resolution.’ What do I mean? You start to take steps to correct your mistake. You start to communicate what you are going to do or have done to remedy it. The bottom line is that you move on, and you help others move on, once you start to resolve.
- Apologize to the people who might have been negatively impacted by your mistake. I’m not saying that apologies ‘heal’ all wrongs. But I am saying that it does ultimately help in the ‘healing’ process, no matter how long it takes. An apology shows the ‘impacted’ your ownership, acknowledgement and willingness to make things right. The wonderful thing about human beings is that as apt as we are to point fingers and blame when we make mistakes, we have even more capability to forgive.
- Demonstrate it was really a mistake by showing consistent, positive, progressive and productive actions moving forward and throughout. Again, people are more apt to forgive and give the benefit of the doubt so long as you have shown good intent, have consistently demonstrated high integrity and performance.
- Realize, no one is perfect in this world and that includes me and YOU! Folks, we make mistakes every single day! If not in our actions, then in our thoughts! There isn’t one single human being on planet earth who would deny this.
- Embrace the fact that greatness comes from those who have made BIG mistakes! Read the autobiographies of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, and many more! What will you find? Stories upon stories of BIG mistakes! You know what, they turned out fine and so will you!
- Practice the art of forgiveness, starting with yourself! This is last but definitely NOT least! There are enough things on our guilty conscience to beat ourselves up on! Do you really need to add more to that plate? If you are the culprit to the mistake, own up to it, resolve and make it better, and move on by forgiving yourself! If you are the recipient to the mistake, give the ‘doer’ some grace. At the end of the day, it’s not about who’s right or wrong, but what everyone can do to move forward in the right direction.
- Take the learning and apply it next time. While suggestions 1 – 7 are important to getting your ‘head straight,’ this last tip is where the ‘rubber meets the road.’ You MUST take this knowledge and apply it the next time around to help avoid the same mistakes, and better yet, make better decisions. Folks, this is what differentiates a ‘true’ star performer – who, yes still makes mistakes – from an average performer. Where do you want to be?
I’d Love to hear about your mistakes
Privately send me your challenges, questions and comments at email@example.com. I can’t guarantee I’ll have all the answers, but I will be candid, truthful and genuine. All of us can inspire, lead and achieve, and drive higher performance and organizational health if we simply work at it.
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