Excellence: Learning from Mistakes

Excellence and mistakes are not usually synonymous but organizations that become regarded as excellent learn from their mistake and the mistakes of others on their way to excellence. While it is important to recognize when a mistake happens it is more important to recognize what valuable lesson has been learned that, if applied properly, will help the organization avoid the same problem the next time similar conditions occur.

Much of my “good” experience is the result of learning from lessons I have learned from mistakes that either I have made myself or have witnessed others doing. I did not intend to want to learn by making mistakes but despite my best effort they did occur and over time I was fortunately able to reduce their incidence – but not completely.

The fear of making a mistake can cause many people to not make decisions. Consequently they withdraw and avoid challenging issues. These people are not good in a leadership situation where unpredictable circumstances require an appropriate solution.

Leaders on the other hand step forward and draw upon what they have learned from making mistakes, make a careful assessment of the conditions they are faced with and then make a calculated decision on how to move forward even if it puts them outside their comfort zone. They do this with confidence in their ability to deal with the unexpected that may rise ahead as they execute their decision.

Does this mean that you can become a leader by being reckless and expect the shear number of mistakes to to forge you into a leader? No!

Leaders learn from their mistakes. They evaluate what they overlooked and what they should have seen. They recalibrate sources that they used for facts and feedback in determining what action to take. And more importantly, reassessed their internal thinking process on how they weighed the risk factors in executing their decision on what to do.

HP became a leader in applying technology in many markets. This was not the result of a few grand slam home runs but many base hits. Their product divisions rolled out new products every few months which resulted in constant feedback on the market and customer reaction, kept their engineering and manufacturing teams in a constant new product introduction mode so that they tuned their processes to a high level, and were constantly getting feedback on competitive products in selling situations.

Were their mistakes? Yes! But the lessons were quickly incorporated into the next product release. HP was constantly learning from not only their successes but also their failures and mistakes.

On a personal level dealing with the lessons from mistakes can be humbling. You are exposed to criticism and second guessing. It is possible to take this experience personally but leaders approach it as part of their leadership conditioning process.

This conditioning is not unlike an athlete preparing for a contest. Along the way their are the disappointments and failures in preliminary contests. But, with perseverance and commitment, the athlete learns how to respond in different competitive situations, avoiding actions that led to performing poorly, and focusing their energies at the actions that result in a high performance result – a win.

We grow as a result of our mistakes. From childhood to adulthood we are always learning – from our mistakes. The bruises, the scars, the misfortunes all contribute to our ability to avoid more of them as we grow. Becoming a leader is a growth opportunity. But it comes with the challenge of dealing with the risk of mistakes.

Become a leader and learn from your mistakes. Seek excellence in your organization and in your own performance but don’t expect it to happen without learning from your mistakes.

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