Leadership: Turn Mistakes into Lessons

Screen shot 2013-04-13 at 10.25.18 AM

Whether you’re a CEO or an intern, a student or a teacher, a parent or a friend, it’s almost impossible to get through an entire day without realizing you’ve made a mistake. Busy schedules and over-long to-do lists make mistakes even more likely. Some are small and easily remedied, and others can have long-lasting repercussions.

Especially if you pride yourself on being careful and thorough in everything you do, mistakes can feel shameful.

[quote]We can ignore and cover our mistakes, or we can choose to learn from them and use them as lessons. [/quote]

What’s your approach to mistakes?

How many of these actions are part of your response?

Acknowledge. When we acknowledge a mistake—without drama, without excuses, without shaming ourselves—we can move on to the important tasks correcting the mistake and finding ways to prevent it from happening again.

Accept. Everyone makes mistakes.  When we take responsibility for being human (and by nature imperfect), we accept ourselves and become open to accepting others.

Apologize. “I am sorry” are very powerful words. Whatever form it takes, a sincere apology can prevent a mistake from disturbing a relationship.

Adjust. The impulse to judge ourselves is strong and self-forgiveness can be hard. It’s important to adjust your own view of yourself and your mistakes to reflect the same attitude you would show to others.

Apply. When we can apply the wisdom we gain from your mistakes, we can carry them forward with us as a positive experience.

[quote]It’s said that there are no mistakes, only lessons, and our biggest mistakes are our greatest source of learning. [/quote]

None of us would ever choose to make a mistake. But in adjusting how we think about our mistakes, we can turn them into something better. Remember mistakes are proof that you are trying.

[quote]As leaders, we establish our character, demonstrate our values, and set a powerful example for others with how we handle our own mistakes.[/quote]

Lead from Within: Mistakes help us keep ourselves in perspective, to really learn and grow. We often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than by being right for the wrong reasons.


Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness is being released by Portfolio May 2017.

30 Responses to “Leadership: Turn Mistakes into Lessons”

  1. Jaro Berce

    16. Apr, 2013

    Lolly like your “within” approach that radiate from your descriptions of “Turn Mistakes into Lesson” blog. I’ve been dealing with it in different situations. for more information please visit my blog: http://leadershipbyvirtue.blogspot.com/

    Jaro Berce, Author of “Leadership by Virtue”

    Reply to this comment
  2. Martina

    16. Apr, 2013

    Great post, Lolly.

    Yes, we should use every opportunity, including mistakes, to learn something. We learn the most about ourselves.

    Once we can work our way through the acknowledgement and judgement part, we need to move quickly to understanding, apologizing, rectifying and adjusting.

    The evidence that we have actually learned something lies not only in the apology, but in the changed action or perception.

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      16. Apr, 2013

      LOVE THIS Martina,

      Once we can work our way through the acknowledgement and judgement part, we need to move quickly to understanding, apologizing, rectifying and adjusting.

      The evidence that we have actually learned something lies not only in the apology, but in the changed action or perception.

      Beautifully stated. Thanks so much for your deep insight.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Vincent Nguyen

    16. Apr, 2013

    Luckily, I can say all those steps are actions that I take when I realize I’ve made a mistake. I feel I am better than most when it comes to coming to terms with mistakes. It’s because of the understanding that perfectionism is an illusion.

    You are very right, sincere apologies are powerful. Most people are afraid to admit they’ve made a mistake, but even less people apologize.

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      16. Apr, 2013

      Vincent, many are afraid to admit mistakes. breaking down our anxiety into a system to follow sometimes takes our BIG mistakes and makes them manageable.

      And as you say perfectionism is an illusion. So lets get real and learn lessons so we can move forward with our lives.
      Thanks for sharing.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Craig Holloman

    16. Apr, 2013

    Thanks for this post. Oh how simple things would be if we all just ‘fessed up to our mistakes, learned from them and kept moving forward. This is definitely a quality of a great leader. Thanks Lolly for the reminder!!

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      16. Apr, 2013

      Craig,
      Qualities of a leader as you say and the essence of our humanity.

      We all need to learn lessons and move forward.
      Thanks for stopping by and adding your insight.
      Much appreciate you.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Terri Klass

    16. Apr, 2013

    Loved the post, Lolly. Sometimes leaders are so hard on themselves when mistakes are made. They beat themselves up and have a hard time forgiving themselves for unimportant errors. Your 4 A’s, are a great way to transform mistakes into life lessons. Thank you for all you do!

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      22. Apr, 2013

      Thank you Terri,

      In leadership and in life we must remember that we all make mistakes its what we do with them that matters.

      Truly appreciate your comment and thoughtfulness.

      Lolly

      Reply to this comment
  6. Ivan Nelson

    16. Apr, 2013

    Lolly, thanks for another great post! It does take true leadership to publicly admit one’s mistakes. It is hard enough to admit them to ourself let alone to others, so apologizing is a very powerful tool indeed. But even more powerful is the ability to learn from mistakes and build on these lessons.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Praveen

    17. Apr, 2013

    That was really amazing post, TY to make someone like me realize the reality of mistakes, and how we are realizing and reacting towards them to resolve them. as you mentioned “I am sorry” are really a very meaningful words, which we need to accept and then deliver those words from our whole heart. As a human, even i do lots of mistakes in my daily life unintentionally but when i realize. i always try to resolve them before they slip away from my hands. and finally this post is like a best lesson to make our organizational & Personal life perfect. Thank you so much, and please be my mentor.

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      22. Apr, 2013

      We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But WE are not your mistakes and WE are not your struggles, OUR struggles and MISTAKES are our teachers, our guide, our mentors, and WE have the power and the passion to shape,connect and deliver on our future….. As heart based leaders tap into the whispers of your heart and allow it to lead you down the journey of your leadership.
      lead yourself forward with mistakes or not…

      Reply to this comment
  8. Carolyn Burns, Broker-associate, Prudential Florida Realty

    18. Apr, 2013

    Love this post, Lolly. Sometimes we forget that even Leaders are people with issues of character and trust. Your advice: “when we acknowledge a mistake—without drama, without excuses, without shaming ourselves—we can move on to the important tasks correcting the mistake and finding ways to prevent it from happening again.” is spot on for anyone who is in denial as to their personal trust issues. Sometimes they absolutely don’t want to admit their flawed character as they are the leader already, and to self-deny or publicly deny is important to their image. The true leader with character will own up to the lie or trust issue and it will free them to be a much better person and leader!.

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      22. Apr, 2013

      Worth repeating…and filled with wisdom!

      Sometimes we forget that even Leaders are people with issues of character and trust. Your advice: “when we acknowledge a mistake—without drama, without excuses, without shaming ourselves—we can move on to the important tasks correcting the mistake and finding ways to prevent it from happening again.

      because as we all know we learn from failure, not from success…

      Reply to this comment
      • lollydaskal

        22. Apr, 2013

        It is important that we forgive ourselves for making mistakes. We need to learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward.

        Reply to this comment
  9. Elisabeth Noble

    18. Apr, 2013

    Lolly, your points about moving forward and learning are vital. When we do, we do learn to be compassionate and impart understanding to others who make mistakes with less finger pointing and judgement about those who have experienced shame for mistakes when they clearly have been learned from. Turning toward God and others with sorrow and seeking forgiveness while doing things correctly makes us stronger people. Also, being able to shed light on others and accept others without making a judgement and labeling helps in moving forward to be able to shine a light “at the end of the tunnel” for others as well while being cautious of who we select to surround us in order to stay on a new path ahead. Thank you for your wise insights!

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      22. Apr, 2013

      Elisabeth,

      Love your last name..NOBLE. it says a lot about who you are.

      As leaders, we are human, as parents we are human, as people we are human we must remember… The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one and so we must trust in ourselves that we have the inner wisdom and the outer faith to move us forward- as you say to move us towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

      Thanks for your beautiful insight and for sharing it with us.

      Reply to this comment
  10. Gordon Tredgold

    20. Apr, 2013

    Great post Lolly.
    Admitting to mistakes and apologising builds trust with our teams, it lets them know we are ok to be venerable, and that we don’t believe our selves to be perfect.

    My last boss was never wrong, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Result – people stopped to provide information to him, or give feedback, or give different viewpoints.

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      22. Apr, 2013

      so true Gordon.

      Admitting to mistakes and apologizing builds trust with our teams, it lets them know we are ok to be venerable, and that we don’t believe our selves to be perfect.

      This should be a poster!

      Thanks for sharing your brilliant insight.

      Reply to this comment
      • lollydaskal

        22. Apr, 2013

        If we as leaders, refuse to look at ourselves in a new light and we can only see ourselves for the mistakes we have made and if we don’t realize that we are not OUR mistakes, then WE WILL NEVER GROW.

        Reply to this comment
  11. Jim Reppond

    20. Apr, 2013

    As we move through and acknowledge our mistakes, it’s easy to see others going through the same issues. It’s just part of maturing. This can be an important crossroad in character! You can choose to have the grace to come along side them to support and advise them, or you can lash out and/or even attack them for “being as stupid as I was”. Guess which one will create a better outcome?

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      22. Apr, 2013

      I like your thoughts when you say……..

      As we move through and acknowledge our mistakes, it’s easy to see others going through the same issues. It’s just part of maturing. This can be an important crossroad in character!

      That is very true statement.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      22. Apr, 2013

      It is healthy to be reminded as leaders the wisest might make mistakes and the strongest might experience weakness.

      Reply to this comment
  12. Jovani Valdivia

    21. Apr, 2013

    Great Post !!
    I totally agree, mistakes are opporunities to learn. if you learn from mistakes, they can propel you forward. Mistakes are an essential part of self improvement.

    I love reading your posts !!!

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      22. Apr, 2013

      Jovani,

      Thanks so much for your comment. TRUTH: MISTAKES are OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN…

      Anyone who has never made a mistake has never VENTURED out of their comfort zone.
      LIFE is a RISK worth taking.

      Lolly

      Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      22. Apr, 2013

      Heart based leaders learn from their mistakes and they learn from feedback from others.

      Reply to this comment
  13. Aleem Moosa

    03. May, 2013

    Thank you very much for this lovely inspirational writing.
    I think everyone must learn from their mistake. Mistakes make one more powerful and strong,if taken positively,and learning by mistakes isn’t that bad as we take, once we make mistake, we try to hide it by lying,and for a single lie one have to find 100 ways to secure that you know i mean…
    Keep on writting these lovely, meaningful,inspirational and motivational letters and bring about change in our life style.
    Thank you so much for all this.

    Warm Regard’s,

    Aleem Moosa
    Manager Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

    Reply to this comment
  14. ninasetia

    08. May, 2013

    This is great thank you.
    But how do you react when your boss treats mistakes, or possible mistakes, as punishment?

    Reply to this comment

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Five Blogs – 17 April 2013 | 5blogs April 16, 2013

    […] Leadership: Turn Mistakes into Lessons Written by: Lolly Daskal […]

Leave a Reply