[February 2, 2020] To recognize one’s weaknesses, mistakes made, blunders and miscalculations are a necessary step on the path to good leadership. We all make mistakes, and there is not a leader who hasn’t made some real doozies in their lives. With the proper attitude, these can be some of the best learning experiences.
Self-deprecating humor goes a long way to help us move beyond any error. I find the British have the right view on mistakes. I heard a British politician a week ago say, regarding his parliamentary colleagues supporting Brexit, “Is their thinking right, or have they boobed again?” Curious use of the word ‘boob’ but I will always remain curious about how boob came to represent a mistake.
Like all leaders, I certainly have my own book of mistakes. In contrast to my rucksack of lessons, my book of mistakes takes up a lot of space. It’s weighty, it has worn tabs, and you will find the binder worn. Metaphorically, I use its weight to improve my upper body strength.
What’s in my book of mistakes? Some are mundane misjudgments, common errors that we all make. Others are unique and associated with my career in the U.S. Army. But the most difficult, ones I have to live with are those involving my family and friends. For example, there were times I spent too much time at work, inadvertently not spending the needed time required for my immediate family, wife, and kids. You can never get that time back.
I went back and re-read some of my Officer Efficiency Reports (OERs). Comments from my rater and senior rater were, indeed, enjoyable to read. What I can appreciate is that I still had overall success as a senior military leader. Maybe it was my commanders who saw something in me that I didn’t see. Here are a few for your entertainment pleasure:
- Becomes transfixed on the mundane and lacks the smarts to see the obvious
- Gives micromanagement a new, enhanced definition
- Occasionally lacks self-awareness and his purpose as an Army officer
- Forgets that communication is a two-way street that is paved with potholes
- Succumbs to the urgent and loses his head on the future
- Plays on a professional football team (metaphorically) but dropped the ball and the other team ran it back for a touchdown
While this book is full of “issues” like my OERs point out, there are few regrets. If there is something I thought I should do (and I thought it through properly), I did it. My philosophy has always been to act when possible and let the chips fall where they may. I would rather act and be wrong than not act and regret the decision.
Raising my kids, I was fortunate not to have made any massive mistakes. Besides, as the Chaplain who married my wife and me said, “Kids are great, but they need to be quiet occasionally.” Each left the nest, got a good job, married, and are respectable citizens. They are also likable, one of my early efforts as a dad. I did yell at them on an odd occasion and made them sit in their room without dinner. What I should have done is to explain their misbehavior better and encourage them to be more likable.
I could easily make this article a three-part series and list all my faults and failures, but that would not be very useful. What I did was learn from those mistakes. I can live with them. Fortunately, good leaders tolerate mistakes. So, if you stumble or get tripped up on your path in life, get up and keep moving. Your life will not be measured by how many mistakes you make but how quickly you get right back up and how you conduct yourself after those mistakes.
Note: Skip Richard, CEO and business executive wrote a book called The Book of Mistakes: 9 Secrets to Creating a Successful Future (2019). I highly recommend it. You can find it on his website here: https://www.skipprichard.com/the-book-of-mistakes/