Otto von Bismarck once said, “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” While it is up to you to decide who’s mistakes you learn from, I can give you some guidance on how best to learn from anyone’s mistakes. The key to learning from mistakes comes down to three main points:
- Recognizing when a mistake is made
- Providing yourself ample time to reflect
- Planning an alternative approach (for when you encounter the same situation again)
It is always easier said than done.
Here are some of my early mistakes – ones that took many iterations to recognize and correct, even if now and then I continue to repeat them…
Trying to prove I have the answer already or otherwise known as “Wow, the answer is so clear, why don’t they see it? Let me explain quickly so we can move on to implementing my solution.”
Maybe you already see this in yourself or perhaps you have encountered working with someone similar, but this one was personally a major obstacle (and at times still is). Working in groups requires a great level of cohesive discovery. I have learned that collaborating as a whole produces better alternatives and provides higher levels of commitment to executing projects. Despite all this, it is still a hard habit to break if you are always trying to get things done.
Learning to hold yourself back from quickly jumping to solutions without having all the information is an important skill. My “ah ha!” moment came when I realized this was a failing approach; not only was I doing the majority of the work, but I had also alienated my team in the process. This created more obstacles for me and was clearly not the correct method for anyone.
Not being authentic.
We all have great personal attributes as well as great issues. This is what makes life interesting. Let’s assume people can outwardly see your attributes. If you are comfortable with your challenges and open with others regarding them, you can usually work past your issues.
I still look back at moments where I know I was playing a role I thought I should play, rather than be myself. These are some of the most frustrating memories I have. I still feel a pang of remorse when I look those people in the eye who experienced these situations with me. In hindsight, I realized that playing a role often made my job harder, as people have a sixth sense for detecting authenticity.
I have also come to appreciate past teams comprised of unique characters. At first, I thought these individuals bordered on unprofessional, but looking back, I believe they were some of the best teams I was a part of. They were also one of the main reason their groups were so successful; the range of personalities and characters removed self-imposed social restrictions, let alone these were smart and dedicated individuals.
To be clear, being authentic without the ability to get the job done is not the point. If I had to choose between two people who can simultaneously get the job done, I would always prefer the individual who is comfortable presenting their authentic self.
This one is ongoing as I continue to struggle to do it well and find more time and opportunities to express my gratitude.
In the past, if we were facing a tough challenge (maybe a large and difficult client project or an enterprise change effort), I would not celebrate my team’s small victories. I can recall saying, “If we are trying to get from a one to a seven or eight out of ten in a performance grade, are we really going to celebrate getting to a two?”
In hindsight that sounds outrageous. I was not thinking of what others were going through. Perhaps this was their first large effort, or they had no idea we were really trying to solve something important. By not recognizing the tremendous growth that these individuals had made, and expressing my appreciation for their exertions, I demotivated them.
The image of a leader running ahead and setting the pace is only as good as the overall pace of the team. The fast pace leader always sounds great in theory if the team is immediately top performing, but more often than not, it looks terrible as the leader separates themselves from the team. This is a tough lesson to learn, but a great skill to build. In the end, we need to advance team members forward, uplifting them along the way so that the entire group is stronger and moving forward together.
I am sure I will continue to learn from my mistakes, I only hope I can be more “wise” and learn more from others along the way…