Owning Up to Mistakes | Career Angles

My friend, Alain Hunkins, wrote a great article for LinkedIn which is the trigger for this video

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My friend, Alain Hunkins, wrote an article for LinkedIn called, "Five Reasons You Should Admit Mistakes." Do a Google search for it. I'm sure you'll find it. It's a nice little article, and it becomes the trigger for this video.

"Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. Tell me about a mistake you made and what you learned from it." That's a question quite a few of my clients have asked over the years when they interview people. They tell me that they learn a lot from the answers that they hear to those questions about individuals and their ability to own up to mistakes.

You see, people really do make mistakes and, if you as a manager, if you as a leader, if you, as a staff person, have trouble owning up to it, it begs the question of what's the issue. For most people, they're afraid of a consequence. They are afraid of retribution. They're afraid of a problem.

I'm going to bring the opposite to you . . . that you're holding on to stuff that's unnecessary to hold on to. So, you know, Alain, in his article, points out five things.

The first one is, when you can own up to a mistake, you helped build trust. As he says, "the foundation for trust and teamwork is being vulnerable. And thus, when you admit to mistakes, you model bringing your whole real self to work. And as a leader, your team will only be as vulnerable as you're willing to be. And this is going to help you build a stronger relationship with them and a stronger team."

The second thing he points out is this greater understanding. "It's a lot easier to see things clearly when there aren't the smoke screens and the mirrors in your line of sight. Admitting mistakes helpw you and your team see things as they really are."

The third thing he points out is better decisions. greater understanding gives you the insight to make better choices. "This has a multiplier effect. Not only does the quality of your decisions improve yielding better results, but the speed and ease of making decisions and improves as well creating a better process."

He, next, points out that "admitting it makes it easier to clean up. Have you noticed that if you clean a baking dish (I love this analogy he uses), if you clean a baking dish immediately after you use it, the baked on mess comes off much easier. He then says "Mistakes are much the same way. As long as you try and deny, repress or hide the mistake, the more impact that will have in the long term."

Lastly, and this is probably the most important part, stuff happens. Mistakes occur. With the shame, anger and guilt and frustrations, those are really optional choices. "When it comes to making mistakes, you can learn from them and grow and improve and not just simply, try and cover them up." He points out the old Thomas J. Watson story about why he didn't fire someone who basically had cost him a million dollars a time where that was even more money. It seems like the late 1950s, early 1960s. Watson said, "Why would I accept this when I just invested $1 million in your education?"

Fundamentally, you learn from this. Mistakes do happen; you're going to grow from it. You may even repeat the same mistake again until you finally understand what it is that you did wrong and how it happened. . . it's a learning opportunity. It brings teams closer together. It's a phenomenal experience. If you're afraid of a consequence, all you're going to learn whether you were right or not, if you own up to it.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1200 episodes and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice” and is a member of The Forbes Him

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