Over the course of the summer I was able to sit down with student leaders from different churches and help them grow in their concept of what leadership looks like. One week, over our time together, we had two people share a similar message: leaders make mistakes.
Today, I want you to hear the same message: Leaders make mistakes. You will make mistakes.
The challenge in leadership is not avoiding mistakes, but what we do when we realize we have made a mistake. Here are three steps to help your mistakes lead you to growth.
(1) Know You Made a Mistake.
For some of us, this may be the most challenging step. Maybe the mistake you made grew more out of a reaction to a decision you made or something you said. Maybe your mistake was a planning mistake, or it had something to do with a choice you made along the way.
No matter what, until you realize you made a mistake, you cannot move forward and learn from it. This is where key voices play an integral role. Having people around you whom you can trust to say what they think you may not want to hear makes all the difference in the world.
Years ago, I served a church and enjoyed a strong relationship with my pastor at the time. We had an important meeting with another church leader one afternoon, and it ended poorly. Later that day he and I came together and I was able to share my opinion on where the meeting went south. Because of the relationship we had, we were able to work through the situation and move forward.
(2) Own Your Mistake
If you want to grow as a leader, please understand you are not infallible. You will make mistakes. What’s worse is that sometimes the people around you will know you made a mistake long before you know it. But, once you realize a mistake has been made, what you do next is paramount.
When you make a mistake, never be afraid to admit it. I would advise against wearing your mistake as a badge of honor, but also don’t treat it like a toothache–if I ignore it long enough, it’ll go away or I’ll die.
When someone in authority over me makes a mistake and admits it, more often than not I respond with a higher level of respect for them. I had a high school basketball coach who tried to get us ready for a game by showing us the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. He wanted us to know we were only playing a game, and the game should be fun, but the desired outcome is not what he hoped. Instead, we played poorly. Later, when reminiscing about his decision, he admitted to me he made the wrong choice in trying to motivate us that way, and I respected him for his honesty.
Own your mistake. Take responsibility for it. Apologize when necessary. But most importantly, once you own your mistake…
(3) Correct it for the Next Time
Very few people enjoy stubbing their toe on the same support beam in the same spot of their house. They either move into a new house or change how they walk around. Actually, can I say no one enjoys stubbing their toe?
Now we get into the nitty gritty of leadership. The leader who makes the same mistake over and over eventually drives away the people he or she is leading. After all, very few people enjoy following someone who is unwilling to learn or to grow.
If you, however, can learn from your mistakes, you become someone who adds value to the lives around you. Then, over time, you slowly begin to make fewer and fewer mistakes. But it does take time, and lots of it.
The bottom line is this: if you want to grow as a leader, you have to learn from your mistakes. So, are you learning from your mistakes? Are you making changes? Or are you repeating the same action over and over and hoping something (or someone else) changes in the process? Learn from your mistakes and see what happens.