Leadership Development // Learning from Your Mistakes

Leadership Development

Strong Leadership in management will always be an important factor in a successful business, but leaders within management who take the time to actually learn and grow from their mistakes will help their companies prosper beyond compare. Throughout our history there have been many businesses and companies that have failed due to repetitive mistakes within management; even by lower level employees.

Why have management and leaders not taken the time to analyze at their mistakes so that they can work towards fixing them?

Managers need to start asking themselves if they can cope with certain situations and whether or not employees will be receptive to constructive feedback and change at that particular time. Being able to stop and discuss a mistake that an employer just recently made, gives management the time and advantage to fix future mistakes. According to an article written by Harry Gaines, a new approach of coaching, empowering and supporting can help companies employees learn from their mistakes (Gaines, 1993). It is important to keep in mind the proper timing for when this teaching should occur. For example, management should ask themselves questions such as, “Do I want to deal with this situation right now?” or “Do I have any feelings now, such as anger, outrage, or defensiveness that would work against effective coaching?” (Gaines, 1993). It is imperative to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that any manager can use a particular mistake to help an employee learn and growth within the company.

When an employee makes a mistake, there are certain strategies that should be implemented that help the failure pay off. From an employee’s perspective, the first question you should ask yourself after making a mistake is “how seriously is my mistake?” (Pollock, 1996). It is always important for any individual to maintain their equilibrium after then have a failure. In some cases, staying calm may give the person the change to solve the problem quickly and avoid the failure all together. The main importance of this post is to confirm that mistakes do happen, but you can always learn from these mistakes. The hardest part about this learning process is seeing that failure can truly be an opportunity (Pollock, 1996). Once a mistake has occurred, it should be the responsibility of that individual’s supervisor or manager to plan a new course of action. Depending on how well the management of the company is able to coach, empower and support, the next step is to make sure that the causes behind that mistake are never allowed to build up again. This means that management is able to directly influence their employees.

Now, what if the amount of reoccurring mistakes that are arising in a company are happening because the company decided to bring in a new piece of equipment? As companies grow and change, the technology they use is likely to grow and change as well. New methods are being used in the hopes of more efficiency and production (Alden, 2001). This means that for mistakes to be eliminated, companies need to look at substantial training programs to teach their employers how to properly work the new equipment. Many challenges and pitfalls have been reported in case studies, which were either foreseen by the company or were undermined (Aspinwall & Jarrar, 1997).

What about a company that is occurring a recently high turnover rate?

Companies need to find new employees, quickly, to replace the employees who have left. This means that the company needs to find another employer to train the “new guy”. It many cases other employers are too busy to get their own job duties done and train a new employee. Jeff Alden came up with the idea of “blueprinting”. Again, this is another way companies can try to help their employees learn from their mistakes. Blueprinting is designed to lay out the exact specifications you want your employees to follow, where everyone in the company can see it (Alden, 2001). This should also help eliminate mistakes because there is no reason an employee can say “I did not know that”.

While companies grow and change, adaptive learning and incremental change needs to be taking place within the company as well (Lei, McGill & Slocum, Jr., 1992). As I mentioned above, technology is a big cause of accidental mistakes, but so is in-adaptive learning within a company. Adaptive learners exhibit characteristics of stimulus-response behavior, which means that they react to environmental changes with discrete, mechanistic actions that often do little to address the problems they come across (Lei, McGill & Slocum, Jr., 1992). This means that management needs to recognize the different availability levels that each individual employee has. In today’s economy, the more a company penetrates the global market, the more likely it is to succeed. This depends on the company’s ability to learn quickly and effectively. Having a management team that is able to recognize the different learning styles of their employees will avoid the tremendous mistake of inadaptability.

Companies need to sit back every now and then and look at their total quality of management. It is vital for a successful company to look at what others have done, the feedback they have provided, the mistakes they have made, the results of those mistakes and an overall approach to re-engineering those mistakes (Aspinwall & Jarrar, 1999). The concept of business process re-engineering (BPR) emerged from business observing their companies mistakes and thus accurately trying to understand what the underlying cause was. To understand BPR management needs you must also learn and understand organizational management and how it actually works (Aspinwall & Jarrar, 1999).

An interesting view point is that “success is much harder to analyze than failure”. According to Robert Pool, when an incident occurs in a company, it is normally possible to figure out the causes that occurred that mistake to happen. Therefore, he believes it is easy to resolve and avoid these incidents in the future (Pool, 1997). While, I understand Mr. Pool’s theory, I do not believe it is necessarily easy to resolve an employee’s mistakes. If it was that easy, then companies would not have as make incidents or mistakes as they do. While it is not easy for employees to learn from their mistakes, it is vital for companies to recognize and work through these mistakes in order to grow. Taking the necessary time and providing the necessary training, all factor into eliminating the number of mistakes that occur within companies every year. Failure to communicate and address the importance of not making the same mistake twice, can result in the failure of that company. Nevertheless, management also needs to keep in mind that learning is constant. A company cannot stress the importance of fixing a specific mistake and then go years without training or talking about that mistake again. In this scenario new employees are likely to come in and make that very same mistake.

There are always going to be critiques for any idea or theory. If a mistake occurs due to mechanical failure or weather conditions (Pollock, 1996), then there is likely nothing management can do about it. In this instance it would be the responsibility of management to stress the important of safety and quality training. Providing employees with proper training and educational resources to make informed decisions about what they should and should not do in certain weather conditions might eliminate a tragic mistake in the future.

Management and leaders need to follow the plan that they have chosen to implement within their company; whether it be coaching, supporting, analyzing or even blueprinting. Once a company has identified their course of action, it is pertinent that they implement that corrective plan as soon as possible. The faster you take positive action, the faster your self-confidence will be restored (Pollock, 1996) and future mistakes will be diverted.

Sooner than later,

TTP Signature



Alden, J. (2001). A blueprint for ‘building’ better employees. The Press, 30. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.libproxy.cc.stonybrook.edu/essentials/article/GALE|A76938526/a56693c83f54082b44b0b66b8785114e?u=nysl_li_susb
Aspinwall, E. M., & Jarrar, Y. F. (1999). Business process re-engineering: Learning from organizational experience. Total Quality Management, 173. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.libproxy.cc.stonybrook.edu/essentials/article/GALE|A55553082/571145e0f1670d710526e6944b3026fb?u=nysl_li_susb
Gaines, H. (1993). Ten ways you can help your employees succeed. Supervisory Management, 8. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.libproxy.cc.stonybrook.edu/essentials/article/GALE|A13995434/752b8f76c2d8a482db3748ede8741465?u=nysl_li_susb
Lei, D., McGill, M. E., & Slocum, Jr., J. W. (1992). Management practices in learning organizations. Organizational Dynamics, 4. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.libproxy.cc.stonybrook.edu/essentials/article/GALE|A12944511/54faf6b096016574c5b7b5ffa2408ee9?u=nysl_li_susb
Pollock, T. (1996). A personal file of stimulating ideas, little-known facts and daily problem solvers. Supervision, 24. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.libproxy.cc.stonybrook.edu/essentials/article/GALE|A18715410/c80102b4ad7169b7b8cd7f6dbb17683e?u=nysl_li_susb
Pool, R. (1997). When failure is not an option. Business Insights: Essentials, 38. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.libproxy.cc.stonybrook.edu/essentials/article/GALE|A19997958/f94f485aca51866d5cd18aa34c32850f?u=nysl_li_susb


16 Comment

  1. I enjoyed this review of important factors that all companies should consider when evaluation the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of their leadership roles.

  2. Michele says:

    Now if only more companies would actually do all the above—-maybe you should send it out to large corporations–they really need to learn this!

  3. cindy b says:

    Loved reading this post! It hurts to make mistakes sometimes but they are so important to the learning process!

  4. There is always something to learn from mistakes and it important for companies have a plan in place when it happens.

  5. kungphoo says:

    These are awesome stats.. I always learn from my mistakes, and have no problems telling people that..

  6. Scott says:

    What’s the old saying? Something about if you don’t learn from your mistakes you are doomed to repeat them?

  7. You made some great points. I wish more business would learn from their mistakes. It can really be a teaching moment.

  8. Amanda @ Erickson & Co. says:

    I think sometimes it is hard for people to learn from their mistakes. Thanks for the reminder and the tips!

  9. I really think that learning from your mistakes is the best way to learn.

  10. These are some great stats.

    It is always better to learn from your own mistakes, and better if you can share your mistakes with others

  11. Rosey says:

    You’ve got some fantastic tips here for businesses and leadership development. Sounds like a great PR class to offer!

  12. Rosey says:

    I mean PD class, hahaha, I blog too much. :)

  13. Yes, learning from mistakes is important in any role, but especially a leadership role. I love the idea of blueprinting what and how you want things done. This way, the ‘blueprint’ material can be changed and adjusted as you learn what does and does not work. Thank you for this very informative article.

  14. Liz Mays says:

    It’s much easier to correct mistakes as soon as they’re recognized. Otherwise long term habits and behaviors set up and they’re harder to fix.

  15. Superb article. I always find myself in the field of leadership. It really helps in getting along with others and managing task and challenges.

  16. Amazing article, it’s so hard to be a leader! I’ve found myself in different positions many times in my life when it was hard to make leadership decisions which felt right!

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