Encouraging Mistakes

I’m not a big fan of mistakes. That might surprise the people who know me best since they also know I make a lot of them.

I make a lot of mistakes because I make a lot of decisions. Mine are mistakes of action and they can be fixed, usually with just a small adjustment. Often, people don’t even realize I made the mistake at all.

Some people believe they can avoid mistakes by not making decisions. They fact is, not making a decision is a decision, it’s a decision to do nothing and it’s almost always the wrong decision. Deciding to do nothing is a huge mistake, it’s a mistake of inaction and it’s often much harder to fix than a mistake of action.

The most successful leaders make a decision the moment that they have the facts required to make it. They make good decisions because they have made a lot of them and they learned as much from the bad ones as they did the good ones.

I get asked from time to time about the best way to help young leaders learn to make decisions. My answer is nearly always the same – let them make decisions!

No one can learn how to make good decisions just by watching someone else do it. If you’re a leader hoping to build future leaders then you need to let your people make decisions. Even some bad ones!

Get out of the way and let them decide. Let them be wrong and let them fix their mistakes. Let them learn from THEIR experience and allow them to build self-confidence by doing… and redoing if that’s what it takes. 

I’m not suggesting any leader stand by and let their people make decisions with potentially devastating consequences, but let them make small decisions and grow their way to bigger ones.

Lead by ensuring they find the lesson in every mistake they make and lead further by helping them develop a plan to make a better decision next time. 

The ability to recover from a mistake or a poor decision can be a great encouragement to your younger leaders. Authentic Servant Leaders don’t use mistakes to criticize their people, they use them to coach and encourage their people. 

It all comes down to this: as a leader, do you have a spirit of criticism or a spirt of encouragement? One forces compliance and one builds commitment. 

One works and one doesn’t. Which one are you? 

How to Make the Right Mistakes

Mistakes happen. The only people who never seem to make a mistake are the ones who refuse to try. They will eventually figure out that not trying is the biggest mistake of all.

Of course, their excuse for not trying is often that they are afraid of making a mistake. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. 

Successful people make mistakes and lots of them. They fix a lot of mistakes too and they seldom make the same mistake twice. Now I’m not so optimistic as to say there is such a thing as a “good mistake.” Given the choice I would never recommend anyone purposely make a mistake. 

If a mistake can be avoided it should be. All mistakes have one thing is common: they eat resources. Mistakes cost either time or money and oftentimes both. Throw in the fact that they can disrupt momentum and it’s clear that mistakes should be avoided if possible.

If possible! There’s the rub, if you’re going to try new things, if you’re going to push your limits then you are almost certainly going to make mistakes. Just make sure you’re making the right ones.

A right mistake is one made from honest effort. It’s a mistake made in the pursuit of a known objective. If you have no objective, goal, or desired outcome for whatever it is you’re doing then pretty much every mistake is the wrong one.

Most of all, a right mistake is one you learn from. It’s a mistake you learn enough from that you won’t repeat the mistake. It’s a mistake that at minimum shows you how some thing won’t work. A right mistake is one that’s made only once.

When you make a mistake the first thing to do is pause for a bit. The bigger the mistake the longer the pause. Do a bit of self-assessment to be sure that the mistake is not skewing your sense of self worth. Remember, making a mistake does not make you a mistake.

Analyze where you got off track and how exactly the mistake was made. Back track a bit because the real cause of the mistake could have been several steps back in your process. One of the main reasons that mistakes are repeated is that people fail to identify the root cause of the mistake.

Make a plan to avoid the mistake in the future. I love the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” The only problem with that saying is that it has caused more mistakes than any other single piece of advice. DON’T just try again, try again with a new and different plan. If you’ve really learned from your mistake the plan may not always be a better plan but it darn well better be a different plan. 

I really don’t believe it’s mistakes that cause ultimate failure. It is a person’s or team’s response to the mistake. I also don’t believe that a mistake can’t be fixed, some take more effort than others but nothing is impossible. 

So get busy, take some risks, try new things, make some mistakes and succeed! 

The Biggest Mistake You Don’t Have to Make


Mistakes happen, everyone knows that. Your own next mistake might be just around the corner. People don’t usually like to think about making mistakes buts here’s a couple of thoughts that may just help you avoid the terrible fate of the biggest mistake of all.

The first thing to keep in mind is that it is not a mistake to make a mistake. My dad used to tell me that the only people that never make a mistake are the ones that never try. Mistakes, almost any mistake, provide us will a real learning opportunity. They can show us what not to do and sometimes provide us with clues on what we should do.

Here is what I think are the keys to learning from a mistake: we must admit the mistake to ourselves. No one has ever truly learned from a mistake they were unwilling to admit to themselves. We don’t learn because we don’t ask for help, and we don’t call on experts that have already learned from their own mistakes. Since we haven’t admitted a mistake we are much less likely to review our actions and decisions to see where we went wrong. (after all, we DIDN’T go wrong)

Here’s the second key to “mistaking well” – when you make a mistake, and have admitted to yourself, then admit it to others as well. Don’t hide it, accept personal responsibility for it then and there. If you’re honest with yourself, a key to success all by itself, you know when you’ve made a mistake. The sooner you admit it to others the less likely you are to make the biggest mistake of all; blaming someone else for your mistake. So admit it to yourself and then admit it to everyone else. (they know it about the same time as you do anyway)

Denying your mistake or even worse, blaming your mistake on someone else almost always makes things worse. It closes off your support network, you are on your own and the first mistake now looks easy to fix when compared to the new one you just created by denying responsibility for or even the existence of the first mistake. What’s more, every time you deny the initial mistake it gets bigger too!

Never make that biggest mistake, admit the first mistake and reach out for help. People admire people that have the confidence to admit they can be wrong and the confidence to admit that someone else may know something they don’t.

Do you have the confidence to mistake well? I’ll bet you do!