Byron's Babbles

Expect Mistakes

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Mistakes by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 3, 2022

Over the past three weeks I’ve had a small construction project going on at my house. It has been fun because my contractor is a friend who I coached baseball with and I also taught his daughter in school. We’ve talked about every day that I have been home and we’ve even added a few things to the project from our conversations. Yesterday he finished the project and he came over last night and we just sat and visited.

My post is about something that I learned from Bruce that we can apply to most of our contexts. I had decided some posts that we had left bare needed to be wrapped. So, I took it upon myself to get the materials and do the job. On the first of five that I did I made a couple of errors. Not very noticeable, but still mistakes. By the fifth post I was at near perfect craftsmanship. The next morning I pointed out my work and the couple of mistakes.

What Bruce told me was profound: “You have to expect mistakes.” He told me that if you focus on never making a mistake, you actually will make more mistakes. Now, the kind of mistakes we were talking about were not like the ones where the wrong mix of concrete was used, thus threatening the integrity of a project. To prevent those types of mistakes protocols and redundancy processes need to be put in place. In my case, however, I needed to put a notch in the wrap to allow space for the mounting bracket on the post. I made the notch about a half inch to big.

Bruce told me that instead of just getting the right amount material for the project I did, he would have gotten a little extra, expecting that errors might occur. If they don’t, you just return the material. To be clear, he was not advocating that making mistakes was not to be avoided. What he was saying was that we must face the reality that mistakes do happen. He suggested that we need to plan for them. He also added that while it can be natural to want to avoid blame and embarrassment, this is only counterproductive to moving forward. Playing the blame game at the worksite as each contractor and trade contractor points the finger at someone else only wastes precious time in coming up with a suitable solution. Owning mistakes and finding quick solutions is the key here.

The moral of this story is that we put all safeguards in place to eliminate mistakes, but we also need to expect them. If we live in fear of making mistakes or make those we serve fearful of making mistakes, we are setting ourselves and others up for making more mistakes.


Recipes For Success

Obviously, no matter what you do, there is never a guarantee for success. We just use recipes and practices to increase our chances of success. Basically, we follow “recipes for success.” In other words, a number of good practices that we have either discovered for ourselves through trial and error, or others. All this popped into my mind as I read Chapter 38, “Own Your Mistakes,” in Mindset Mondays with DTK by David Taylor-Klaus (DTK). DTK taught us in the book the we need to own up to our mistakes or our credibility is undermined. By owning up to and hopefully learning from our mistakes, we become trustworthy and human.

As a believer in having a growth mindset, I began to think about the difference between a mistake and failure. In doing some research I found that the difference is in the learning, which to me is a big part of the “owning up to it” advice of DTK. Then I turned to Seth Godin who said, “A mistake is either a failure repeated, doing something for the second time when you should have known better, or a misguided attempt (because of carelessness, selfishness or hubris) that hindsight reminds you is worth avoiding” in The Difference Between A Failure and A Mistake. He went on to say, “A failure is a project that doesn’t work, an initiative that teaches you something at the same time the outcome doesn’t move you directly closer to your goal.” Guilty as charged. Using Godin’s definition, I’ve made lots of mistakes and failures.

We all make mistakes. Do not forget that mistakes are behaviors, just like experiments. We must clean up after them and own them. Failures are outcomes and all about the learning. Don’t make the mistake (pun intended) of not learning from our actions.

Living Is Having A Past Full Of Mistakes

The other day as I was having dinner with a good friend I was talking about some mistakes I had made. He said, “Byron, part of living is having a past full of mistakes.” Wow, how true this is! And, how impactful it was to hear from this. As a person who never worries about failure and tries to learn from every mistake, it was huge to talk this out.

The thing to remember and tell ourselves, however, is that the mistake was not on purpose. We didn’t misunderstand circumstances or miscalculate a situation on purpose. Would we forgive someone else? Sure! So we need to remember to forgive ourselves too, and fail forward. This all doesn’t qualify if the mistake or failure was while taking a risk. That is the nature of risk taking and is necessary.

Then, we just need to do everything we can to fix the mistake. That may mean talking to someone, coming up with a better solution, or letting someone else help out. I always say to others, “There’s nothing you can screw up bad enough that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. And, if it doesn’t, it won’t matter anyway.” Remember, we are human and not infallible.

Finally, we need to take the position that we will be smarter next time. We need to learn from mistakes. Just as others have had amnesia about our past mistakes, we need to have amnesia about others. This is truly having compassion.