My Book of Mistakes

By | February 2, 2020

[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:

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

20 thoughts on “My Book of Mistakes

  1. Valkerie

    I’ll start keeping my own “book of mistakes.” It will be very useful as a guide to what to fix in my life.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Me too, Valkerie. By the way, hope you watched last night’s football championship game. It was a good game, close scoring and very balanced teams.

  2. Delf "Jelly" Bryce

    As most of you know, I work for one of those “three lettered agencies” of the US Government. My time there has educated me to better understand people and, unfortunately, to better understand bureaucracy. When annual evaluations are handed out, there will be a rare leader who makes proper light of the fact that the wording is correct but that humor plays a part that is overlooked much too often.

    1. Harry Donner

      Hey, Jelly. Haven’t seen you on in a while. Please write something for Gen. Satterfield and his leadership blog. Oh, thanks for the on-target comment.

    2. Jonathan B.

      Hi Mr. Bryce. Please submit an article for us to read. We would learn from your experiences and thanks in advance for seriously considering my request.

  3. Janna Faulkner

    “My Book of Mistakes” …… is this really one of your books or just the title of today’s article? I would like to see the book if you have it.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Janna, I think Gen. Satterfield means this as a metaphor and not literally. Otherwise, I think he would have included it in his electronic book section (which I checked).

  4. Greg Heyman

    Gen. Satterfield, you are fortunate your kids turned out well. Today most don’t get married and have good kids. Today most are on the streets protesting, shacking up with their ‘soulmates’, and watching television and typing on their smart phones.

  5. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    Here are some funny ones I found out on the Internet:
    1. Since my last report, he has reached rock bottom and has started to dig.
    2. His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity.
    3. I would not allow this employee to breed.
    4. Works well when under constant supervision and cornered in a trap.joke foot in mouth
    5. When he opens his mouth, it seems that this is only to change whichever foot was previously in there.
    6. He would be out of his depth in a parking lot puddle.
    7. This young lady has delusions of adequacy.
    8. She sets low personal standards, then consistently fails to achieve them.
    9. This employee should go far — and the sooner he starts, the better.
    10. This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.

    1. Jerome Smith

      Ha ha … great list. I’ve seen some of them before but always good to re-read them.
      Here is one I got a few years ago from my senior manager. She thought she was being funny and looking back, I think she was.
      ” If brains were taxed, he’d get a rebate.”

  6. Dead Pool Guy

    I got a big laugh from reading comments made on your annual evaluations. Were they funny to you at the time? Perhaps not. Remembering them and letting us see them is greatly appreciated.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      Thank you sir for your honesty. I don’t believe I would have thought them funny. I’m sure you learned a lot from your senior officers.

      1. Dr. William Blake, Sr.

        We should all learn from incidents like this. Life is too short and often too tragic to get upset and out of whack when others criticize us (often without humor). If we can criticize without the acrimony so often we see (like in politics), life would be so much easier and simpler. Great website you have here Gen. Satterfield. I am making this part of my day by coming and reading your articles.

  7. Eva Easterbrook

    Loved your article today, Gen. Satterfield. Thanks for being candid and open about the remarks made about you.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Eva, thanks. Good point and this is one of the main reasons I keep coming back to this webblog by Gen Satterfield.

    2. JT Patterson

      Yes, another great article for posting on the refrig at work. I do that occasionally just to see the reaction from my work colleagues. They say a lot but don’t really have much to say. I like this leadership website and constantly come back here for a reorientation to leadership facts.


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