Learning What Not to Do

By | April 11, 2019

[April 11, 2019] As a kid, I had a cousin named Carter (not his real name) who had all the greatest toys, but he would never share them with us. My brother, sister, and I were quick to learn that not sharing made Carter unlikeable and that meant no one would play with him. Learning what not to do as kids is all about growing up.

“From the errors of others, a wise man corrects his own.” – Publilius Syrus, ancient Latin writer

Leaders must place their ego aside to learn lessons from others; ‘what not to do’ is one of the most important. That is a common theme here at theLeaderMaker.com where I’ve repeatedly expressed a view that it is better to learn from the mistakes of others than to error yourself first.

Frenchman Napoléon Bonaparte is considered one of the greatest military and political leaders of all time. Even he failed to learn from the many ancient leaders who cautioned on overextending one’s army and underestimating one’s enemy.

In 1812, thinking that Russia was plotting an alliance with England, Napoléon launched an invasion against the Russians that eventually ended with his troops retreating from Moscow and much of Europe uniting against him. In 1814, Napoleon’s broken forces gave up, and on this date, April 11, 1814, Napoleon stepped down and was exiled.

“From the errors of others, a wise man corrects his own.” Publilius Syrus also said this and gave wise counsel to many successful political leaders throughout his lifetime. One would think that major mistakes of leaders of the past would never be repeated, but alas, that is often not the case. It may be a human condition that we think we are better, more moral, and less prone to corruption and error than the other guy.

I may have been a slow learner as a kid but my cousin Carter taught me a lot about what not to do. He was always trying to get us to play with him. Most of the time we just ignored him. Napoléon, on the other hand, didn’t learn from his past mistake either and at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, his army was again defeated; followed by his permanent exile.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “Learning What Not to Do

  1. Dennis Mathes

    This is a great leadership blog. Thank you Gen. Satterfield for keeping it up to date and relevant.

  2. Bryan Lee

    You will at some point make a mistake. So get it out of your head that you can avoid errors. Making mistakes is part of being a leader. The bad habit is making the same mistake twice.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      I agree. Go ahead and make mistakes, but just don’t make them again. Realize what you have learned and then go forth. The US military has a culture of allowing mistakes (as long as you don’t kill anybody in the process). Except, of course, in war the other guy is the enemy.

  3. Willie Shrumburger

    We have all been on the receiving end of some ineffective leadership, as there are no perfect leaders. When we are in that position, it is time to have grace for those above us. It is also time to be brave and coach-up, as we have a role to play in helping our leaders become the very best that they can be.

    1. Sadako Red

      Excellent point. Maybe, Gen. Satterfield will write about that sometime.

      1. José Luis Rodriguez

        Hey, Sadako Red, big fan here. I love to read your articles. Please publish another one soon!!!

      2. Jung Hoon Kim

        Yes, soon another post here. Thank you.

  4. Eric Coda

    Don’t make excuses. There is no “them” in leadership. You are “them.” There is no complaining and there is no resignation. If your people are not performing or the business is not achieving, then that falls on you.

  5. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Here’s one that is big on my radar and often in Gen. Satterfield’s blog.
    Don’t lie. This includes blatant lies, half-truths, and errors of omission. If you make a mistake, own it, clean it up, and apologize to all impacted.

  6. Maureen S. Sullivan

    1. Trying to do everything.
    2. Answering all emails (or calls and messages for that matter)
    3. Thinking you have to do everything immediately
    4. Putting important tasks off
    5. Trying to get things perfect the first time around
    6. Being hung up over details
    7. Not having clear goals
    8. Not taking breaks
    9. Trying to please everyone
    by Celestine Chua
    Life Coach, Blogger

    1. Forrest Gump

      I like the list. Here is number 10, don’t do stupid!

      1. JT Patterson

        He He …. Forrest are you at it again? 🙂

      2. Albert Ayer

        Right, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Heard that somewhere before /snarc/

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Thanks Maureen for finding such a great list.

  7. Fred Weber

    “What Not to Do” This applies even in the world of business … well, of course.
    A seasoned entrepreneur reveals the 17 most common mistakes startups make and how to avoid them — plus, the 5 things you must do to ensure success.

  8. Gil Johnson

    Only the dumbest among us rely on learning only from our personal mistakes. Work and act smarter! Use the errors of others as a guidepost to doing well in life.

    1. AutisticTechie

      This bares repeating often. Too bad many ignore the advice.

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