What you won’t learn about leadership from a book and how to come back from failure

Let’s be honest – in our relentless pursuit for success, we hate making mistakes! Stuffing up is at best embarrassing. At worst it can have serious implications for your organisation and career.

We can all recall that horrible, unforgettable moment when we realised we made a big mistake. While we may at first deny it or make rationalising excuses to avoid the pain, it doesn’t take long for that sinking feeling to settle into the pit of your stomach…

But to ‘err’ is human and while we fear failure, it will inevitably happen. Ask any successful leader about the experience from which they learnt the most, it’s likely to be an honest mistake, error of judgement or something that simply went horribly wrong.

What’s more, there’s only so much you can learn from reading, leadership courses and wise mentors. Intellectually, there are many ways to learn the concepts of effective leadership. Yet, real life rarely mirrors case studies or others’ experience and you often have to decide or act ‘in the moment’.

But when you personally experience a mistake, learn from it and change, you become a better leader. When it comes to leadership development, learning from mistakes is one of the most powerful ways to grow.

Leadership ‘blind spots’ are your greatest enemy and the biggest drivers of poor leadership performance. Unfortunately, they are often not revealed until after you’ve made a mistake.

Over my 25+ year management career and 15 years of executive coaching, I've identified the mistakes that are worth experiencing to become a successful leader.

Once made, it’s unlikely you’ll repeat them and the insight gained will stay with you for the rest of your career.

Your biggest mistakes are the best creators of your wisdom. #leadership #leadershipmistakes #leadershipsuccess

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7 Leadership Mistakes You Must Make to Succeed:

Leadership Failure #1: Think you can’t and won’t fail

Even the most humble leaders harbor a secret hope that they’ll never fail. After all, the people you lead are relying on you to be right. But if you think you won’t fail, you’re kidding yourself! Mistakes are inevitable. While you do your utmost to avoid them, they will happen.

Leadership Failure #2: Try to do it all on your own

A common trap for new and emerging leaders, at first you believe you can do it all, quicker and better. Transitioning to executive level roles, this one is best learnt though experience. You’ll know it when you’re starting earlier, staying back later, working weekends, stressing more and burning out.

Believing your people are already 'too busy' so you can't delegate is a trap.

Leadership Failure #3: Rely on your positional power

While the authorised power that comes with your management title is legitimate and necessary, using your title to get work done will quickly disengage your team. ‘Because I said so, ’ is rarely an effective motivator or adequate reason to do something a particular way.

Pulling rank should be a sparingly used last resort.

Leadership Failure #4: Be the Hero

Closely linked to #2, riding in on your white charger, brandishing your sword to ‘save the day’ may validate your brilliance, but it won’t gain you respect or commitment from others.

While tempting to jump in and rescue a bad situation, team based solutions (where everyone plays their part), are more robust and sustainable.

Leadership Failure #5: Hire the wrong person

When a recruit who blitzed the interview, had impeccable references and ticked all your boxes doesn’t work out, you’ll know you’ve made an error in judgement. Maybe your boss was leaning on you to hire her preferred candidate or none of the candidates truly shone but you desperately need the role filled.

The impact of a hiring mistake can be immediate or slow burning. Left unaddressed, it will reflect badly on you and can be career limiting.

Leadership Failure #6: Avoid a Tough Decision or Conversation

Anyone who claims to have never procrastinated over a tricky dilemma or uncomfortable conversation is fibbing! We’ve all done it but procrastination isn’t your biggest problem. Failing to act will frustrate your team and lead others to doubt your ability.

Sure, some problems work themselves out if you leave them be, but others will become progressively worse.

Knowing the difference and having the courage to act is critical.

Leadership Failure #7: Believe you know it all and there's nothing left to learn

More common in senior leaders, thinking you’ve seen it all and know it all is flawed. While you may have plenty of experience, the people you lead, their work and the environment are constantly changing.

Leaders who proudly declare they no longer read business books and blogs or attend courses, don’t need a coach and dismiss others’ views without listening, quickly become blinkered, sidelined and eventually obsolete.

Regardless of which mistakes you’ve made, the bigger ones will have been painful. But they are also invaluable when you know how to manage and benefit from them.

Here’s why…

Approached the right way, honest faux pas can do you more good than harm based on how effectively you respond to them.

Mistakes can be positives that strengthen your ability, standing and #leadership reputation. #career #mistakes

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How to Come Back from Leadership Failure

Leadership Success #1: Take Accountability - OWN IT!

Nothing magnifies a mistake more than failure to take responsibility. Once you realise you’ve made a mistake, acknowledge it. If you realise before others, get on the front foot and let those who are impacted know what’s happened, before they find out from someone else.

Leadership Success #2: Apologise Unconditionally

A humble, heartfelt and genuine apology is the quickest way to forgiveness. Openly listen to others’ pain as they vent and understand the impact. Your 'meā culpā' includes resisting the temptation to justify and defend your actions

Leadership Success #3: Step Back, Reflect and Learn

While it’s tempting to box on and pretend it didn’t happen or wasn’t so bad, you'll miss a golden opportunity to learn. Engage an independent, trusted person like a mentor or professional coach to help you work through it, gain insight and regain perspective.

Leadership Success #4: Own the Solution, Rectify the Impact

Making good is the most constructive and positive way to right a wrong. Enlist others to help you fix it and thank them.

As people get busy rectifying the problem, attention and effort shift towards creating the best solution.This often generates even bigger, more sustainable improvement in other areas.

Leadership Success #5: Decide What You'll Change

History rarely repeats but hindsight is a powerful teacher. Facing a similar situation in the future, what will you do differently to ensure you don’t repeat your mistake?

Leadership Success #6: Forgive Yourself and Move On

We are often our own biggest critics and worst enemies when we’ve stuffed up! While it’s easy to keep beating yourself up, when you’ve taken the steps above, there’s nothing gained by dwelling on it. Develop perspective and remember, you're human!

Be kind to yourself and accept mistakes for what they are - valuable lessons. #leadership #learn #career

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No one goes to work to do a bad job or intentionally fail. But mistakes and failure will happen and when they do, remember they provide the best ways to learn and grow.

Successful leaders are reflective, wiser and stronger, often using their own 'stuff up' experiences as teachable moments for their teams.

So now I’m wondering, what are the richest lessons you’ve gained from making a mistake?

Pop them into the comments below so we can keep learning from each other.

Carpe diem

Caroline Cameron
About Caroline

Caroline Cameron is an award winning, master certified executive, career and business team coach, workshop facilitator and speaker. Caroline is on a mission to help mid-career professionals and evolving organisations harness the power of change to achieve success in business, work and life.

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