Leadership development and mistakes

December 5, 2018 by Wally Bock

Leadership development isn’t a flawless rise to the top of the chart. Developing leaders must often learn the hard way. Consider this.

“I thought back to one of my own early-career, well-intended, clumsy moves. I was an inexperienced HR manager attending a meeting on employee engagement where I told a room full of VPs, all with at least a decade more experience than me, that they were completely wrong.”

That quote is from Karin Hurt’s excellent post, “The Surprising Reason Emerging Leaders Stop Emerging.” Click over and read the whole post when you have a minute. Karin has a lot of good things to say. Her post got me thinking about leadership development and mistakes.

Mistakes are the price you pay for improved performance in the future. Mistakes are often the result of effort. The people who work the hardest make more mistakes. And mistakes are part of the fabric of learning. They’re part of being human.

Leadership Development Means Mistakes

Developing leaders are talented, ambitious, and hard workers. They are likely to make more mistakes than the average worker.

People with less experience are likely to make more mistakes. Developing leaders, by definition, are gaining the experience to lead. That means lots of mistakes.

Smart, driving people are more likely to make mistakes. They’re more likely to try new things. They challenge common wisdom. Because they’re self-confident, they will push ahead where others might fear to tread. I was like that as a young leader. One of my bosses described me as, “A bull who carries his own china shop with him.”

Leadership Development Must Be Tolerant of Mistakes

Many people who will develop into great leaders are also the people that make mistakes and push too hard while they’re learning what works for them. The leaders most likely to turn out best are also likely to be the most trouble along the way. Expect mistakes. Think of them as the price you pay for future excellence.

Leadership Development Should Exploit Mistakes

People are hard-wired to remember mistakes. That makes mistakes a great learning opportunity. When a developing leader makes a mistake, seize it as a coaching opportunity.

My father used to say “Life is the art of new and better mistakes.” That is your challenge. Your job is to help developing leaders make new and better mistakes.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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