Making the Most of Mistakes

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

– Albert Einstein

Earlier this week I began writing about the second new year for leaders. You can read the introductory post for more background information here.  We have already admitted that the beginning of the school year has not been exactly perfect and mistakes have been made.  That brings me to the following question:

What do the best leaders do when they make a mistake?

  • Run in a different direction
  • Blame somebody else
  • Hide from anyone who knows the truth
  • Ignore the mistake and it will go away

Unfortunately, none of these would be the correct answer.  Even worse, these are strategies employed by many leaders when they are facing their mistakes.  The best advice I ever received around making mistakes involves the quote that began this post.  As a leader you are striving to make your organization a better place.  This will invariably mean making quite a few mistakes along the way.

You really aren’t doing anything new or innovative if you aren’t making mistakes along the way.

What should a leader do with his or her mistakes?

1. Own the Mistake – The most important thing you can do is to own the error.  People want to follow someone who not only makes mistakes but is brave enough to own it.  This also encourages others to take risks and push the envelope without fear of repercussions or blame.

2.  Decide the Lessons Learned – Failure is only beneficial if you learn something as a result of it.  Think about the following questions once you have owned the mistake.  Make sure you talk to other people and get their insights as well.

  • Did you learn anything from your mistake?
  • Will it get you closer to the desired outcome?
  • What would you do differently the next time?
  • How will you use this information to propel your organization forward?

Failure is the key ingredient to both success and innovation.  Your second new year will bring many more failures.  The power will be in how you handle each failure as a leader.



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  1. Brian, I remember an administrator telling me when I was a young teacher, “it’s okay to make mistakes.” That was so liberating for me. So, I did. And I was really good at it. But over time the one thing I learned was that it was okay to make a lot of mistakes, so long as they were all original.

    Thanks for reminding us that mistakes are part of the growth process.


    January 3, 2012
    • Thanks for commenting Tony. Your point about making original mistakes is a great one. It is difficult to make the most of mistakes if you continue to repeat them.

      January 16, 2012
  2. Michael said:


    This is a great article and I completely agree with the 2 points above. I wonder if there should also be a third – once you own the mistake and decide the lessons learned, then you also share the mistake and the lessons.

    I know I plan to make more mistakes in 2012. Happy New Year!


    January 10, 2012
    • Great point Michael! Your third lesson takes it to another level. Thanks for commenting.

      January 16, 2012

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