It’s easy to say that we learn from our mistakes, but how often do we actually learn?

How much pain needs to be felt before we learn the lesson? How many times must we repeat the same mistake before we realise what we need to see or experience so that we can do or be better next time? What does it take to decide that something is not working and that it’s time to make a change?

Asking us to not make mistakes is impossible. We will mess up. The impact this has on people, the business, your customer … well, who knows? There are huge learnings emerging from the pandemic, and I have seen firsthand how the ripple effect of 2020 has exposed organisations and teams, and how some truths within businesses have been exposed:

  • Breakdown of processes that have led to greater financial loss.
  • Procedures that were not robust or flexible enough to pivot quickly when needed.
  • Employees who hid behind others onsite have demonstrated a lack of knowledge or capability when working in isolation from home.
  • Lack of customer loyalty.

How we see these mistakes or areas of mediocrity is a choice. We can choose to sit and whine and dwell on the gaps and deficits or we can choose to learn from them and be better than yesterday.

I recently sat in a board meeting where one of the directors encouraged the managing director to ask the question: ‘What Will We Never Do Again?’ It was a profound moment. You could hear a pin drop in the room. It was a powerful question. Rather than it leading to awkwardness and exposure of gaps, the leadership team found the courage to admit to areas of the business that were underperforming and, more importantly, to commit to learning from them.

‘Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.’ – Bruce Lee 

Earlier this year, I made a mindless mistake. This mistake created some damage to an internal working relationship. I recall having a heart-to-heart the next day, and I finished the conversation by saying:  ‘I promise you, I will always make mistakes – even as the boss. And I promise you, I will always learn from them. This value has now been rewired within me, and I can see how powerful it is to live by. 

Sometimes it can take a crisis for us to really appreciate the consequences of our mistakes or oversites.

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. What will I never do again?
  2. Why?
  3. What can I do differently tomorrow?

As we cross the finish line of 2020, maybe there is an opportunity to hardwire the behaviour of learning from our mistakes into our organisations so that we are stronger in the years ahead.

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