Coaching Tuesday: Learning from Your Mistakes

Try, Fail, Try Again Till SuccessIt’s inevitable: we all make mistakes, hard as it is to admit it. And it’s agonizing when we realize our actions may have had a negative impact on our boss, clients, colleagues, friends, or family.

In the world of coaching, we know that how one responds to a mistake is as important as what one learns from it. Here are three guidelines along with coaching questions that may help you manage your response or coach someone in your organization through a mistake.

  1. Own up. What have you done to be accountable? What apologies have you made? The key is to avoid defending the mistake. An explanation can be useful, but it must come with total ownership—throwing someone else under the bus is not advised. Avoid the “whyne” and stick with the facts. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s a values-led decision to take responsibility.
  2. Learn something. What did you learn from this mistake? Is a process broken? Does communication need to improve? Is a new skill set needed? Learning from mistakes is actually a great way to identify gaps in organizations. Think it through and close those gaps where you can. How can you avoid repeating this mistake in the future? While mistakes may be inevitable, repeating mistakes isn’t useful for you, for others, or for your organization. Get a plan in place to ensure repeat offenses don’t occur.
  3. Move on. What will help you move forward? Momentary agonizing may be part of the process by which we think through mistakes, but it isn’t useful long term. Mistakes often generate emotion, and it can be important to recognize what you are feeling. But berating yourself or others about a mistake won’t accomplish anything and might even cause harm.  Recognize the emotion, name it, and maybe even discuss it a bit. Then move forward.

Jules Verne said, “Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make because they lead little by little to the truth.”

Humans aren’t perfect. As much as we strive to do well, to succeed, and to be on top of our game, we will make mistakes. How we respond to those mistakes is the true measure of our character.  Own them, learn from them, and move on.

About Coaching Tuesday

Coaching Tuesday is a new weekly feature devoted to ideas, the latest research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.  Coaching Tuesday is written by Coaching Services Partners from The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.  Since 2000, our 130 coaches have coached over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services.

8 thoughts on “Coaching Tuesday: Learning from Your Mistakes

  1. Patricia: You so right. I resonated with your insight on Jules Verne’s notion of mistakes leading to truth. Mistakes are part of the learning process for a leader. And for me, part of that learning process as a leader is to re-frame the concept of a mistake. I like to think of my mistakes as if they were “miss-takes” on a movie set. Movie buffs know that a “take” in the movies is the uninterrupted filming of a scene. A “miss” is something off target. So a miss-take –or a mistake—is an off-target scene. My job as a leader is simply to refocus more on target and learn from my mistake and from my missed take.

  2. Reblogged this on Farsight Change and Transition Coaching and commented:
    We often feel shamed by mistakes – that is one of the reasons we often don’t take risks; yet without risks there can be no innovation. The Habits Of Mind Foundation identify 16 habits of mind which are integral to success. One of these is taking responsible risks. Einstein would have approved. When we think of him we tend to remember his famous theories which changed the face of the modern world. What we forget are his equally famous words: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

    I have three questions for each of us for tomorrow:
    1. What responsible risk would you like to take?
    2. What do you stand to win by taking it?
    3. What may you lose if you stay with the status quo?

    I look forward to hearing the results of the courageous decision you make tomorrow to do something differently, not knowing exactly how it will turn out but trusting your intuition and good judgement.

    Posted by Juliette Gyure, change management and transition coach,

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  4. Thanks Patricia. There are many advantages to owning mistakes and you’ve done a good job of highlighting some of the key ones.

    I would just like to suggest a fourth – it is great for employee engagement.

    Owning mistakes is at the heart of authentic leadership. I’ve worked in and lead teams where this culture was present and it was incredibly liberating. We knew that we were expected to do our best and it is fantastic when mistakes were embraced so that they weren’t repeated. By contrast, working in an environment where mistakes are feared and avoided doesn’t reduce the number of problems, it just hides them.


    David Pethick

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