Celebrating Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. I can still hear my mom tell me that as a 5-year old who thought she was helping by loading most of the box of Cascade into the dishwasher before running it. Two important lessons I acknowledged that day: it only takes a scoop, and more importantly, it’s ok when you mess up. Literally!

In the work setting, the same grace should be given when a mistake is made. Unfortunately, often times mistakes are hidden, blame is placed or discipline is harsh. What if thinking about mistakes in a new way would allow employees to feel more comfortable making them? How about celebrating them as development opportunities?

A few years ago, a direct report called me in a panic. She realized she made a mistake with client communication, and she was beating herself up about it. I took a moment to digest the information and coached her that all would be well as we recognized the learning opportunity this created. We worked through the issue, and the client was thrilled with the outcome. Owning the mistake, handling the situation and ensuring it doesn’t happen again are critical parts to this process. It freed the employee and allowed her to move confidently forward.

Conversely, when I make a mistake, I share it with my colleagues. I think it is refreshing to know that others are fallible and willing to share their mishaps. We’re human; it is bound to happen to each of us. It is in the sharing of mistakes/learning opportunities that a culture of risk-taking is formed, pushing us to try new things without fear. In this environment, creativity and innovation thrive.

The next time you make a mistake, determine what you can learn from it and how it allowed you to grow going forward. I’m glad to say that in 30+ years of running dishwashers, I’ve never had the kitchen overflow with suds again.