Master the Art of Making Mistakes

anxietyToday was an embarrassing day.  I was on the radio being interviewed by phone and I accidentally hung up right in the middle of a sentence.  I was mortified!  Fortunately, I had entered the phone number in my speed dial so I was able to get back on quickly.  The problem was, my heart was racing and I felt like such a fool and I had to continue with the rest of the interview.

How do you maintain your composure when you make a huge mistake in front of lots of people?  That is the situation good leaders must be able to handle.  We all make mistakes from time to time.  How we handle them differentiates the seasoned leader from the less experienced.

Every leader I have ever interviewed has said they have made numerous mistakes to get to where they are.  And I’m not just saying this to make myself feel better.  Research supports this, as does testimony from the most powerful leaders in the world.  Warren Buffet, for example forgave one of his leaders for making a $360 million mistake, saying “we all make mistakes.  If you can’t make mistakes, you can’t make decisions.  I’ve made a lot bigger mistakes myself.”

“It’s dangerous to be safe” said the president of a large Chicago-based construction company in Bill Treasurer’s book, Leaders Open Doors.  Treasurer tells leaders creating purposeful discomfort is a way to develop future leaders.  In other words, they must learn how to handle uncomfortable situations to grow.

Ironically, in the radio interview, I was talking about my book, Flying without a Helicopter, and how important it is for leaders to be resilient.  I was saying how younger people are getting fewer opportunities in their childhood to build resilience.  And there I was—sink or swim.  I had to be resilient in the moment to not only save face, but be a good role model to my listeners.

It wasn’t my best interview ever, but I got through it and live to tell about it.  It wasn’t fun at the time or for several hours afterward, but it turned into a learning opportunity.  And so it will for you when you make a big mistake in front of lots of people.  At least it will give you a good story to tell.