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“Worse things have happened in better families”

is what one of my former bosses and mentor would sometimes say if staff members made mistakes. Depending on the severity of the mistake the guilty person would receive a tongue lashing before the monologue ended with that statement. Like everyone else, I was on the receiving end of a few of those lectures. 

“Professor Google” defines a mistake as a misguided judgment or action. I find that definition incomplete. I believe there are three kinds of mistakes: 1) Aggressive, 2). Passive and 3) Negligent. It becomes a mistake when things do not work out as intended. Not sure how many of you are familiar with golf, so I hope this illustration will make the point. Golf’s objective is to get the ball in the hole with the least amount of strokes. For example, let’s say the green surrounding that hole is 275 yards away, but there is a water hazard between the golfer and the green. An aggressive golfer would try to make it to the green in one stroke. However, if he misses, the ball could land in the water resulting in a penalty. A safe golfer would take two strokes and not risk the ball going into the water. The risk for the aggressive golfer is greater than the golfer who’s playing it safe, but so is the reward. If the aggressive golfer makes it in one stroke he wins, but if it goes in the water and the safe golfer makes it in two, then he wins. When making decisions, leaders should calculate the risk-return trade-off. 

Continuing with the metaphor, a golfer would make a negligent mistake if he or she just walks up and hits the ball without considering the appropriate club selection given the distance. In other words, the leader who does not provide the necessary resources or personnel for a project is negligent. 

There are times when leaders do all the right things but do not get the desired results. On second thought, I do not consider those scenarios mistakes; I call them setbacks because those leaders considered all the factors which gave them the best chance for success. Whether mistakes or setbacks, these are learning opportunities. 

Natural leaders are big enough to admit mistakes, smart enough to learn from them, and strong enough to correct them. Everything in life can teach you a lesson, you just have to be willing to learn. The leader’s attitude during or after these misfortunes can determine how future situations are handled. 

The difference between highly successful leaders and unsuccessful ones is those who feel successful choose to learn from setbacks or failures. In fact, they tend to learn valuable lessons about themselves and life in general. 

Feel free to share examples of how you or someone you know bounced back from mistakes at home or work. To learn more about my coaching practice visit: