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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

Stop feeling bad about your mistakes — turn them into learning.

Yesterday’s HBR daily management tip was about how to avoid ruminating about your mistakes — thinking about them over and over, and then doubting yourself. HBR suggested a couple good methods, including separating your work from your worth as a person and finding something to distract you. However, there’s a better option: LEARN!

As we know, learning is the first core of the definition of leadership, and the only core that is your sole responsibility. Making mistakes is an inevitable part of the learning process specifically trial and error, of one of the three avenues of learning. You are going to make mistakes, you can’t become a good leader without doing it!

Rather than turning a mistake into doubt, put it through the learning process and turn it into a behavioral change. Go back and look at what you did — what specific actions you took. Then, assess the situation and environment — who was involved, the challenge you were addressing, and the desired outcome. This will probably show you why the actions you took didn’t produce the result you wanted, and likely some alternative actions you could take. If you don’t know what actions you might do differently, do some research: find a book, talk to a mentor, think about or watch someone who is good. While you might not face the exact situation again, come up with a few specific actions that you could have done to produce the desired outcome. Finally, generalize from this situation to similar situations by asking yourself what specific behavior or behaviors you will try in the future.

As always, write these ideas down. Even if you lose the paper, you are more likely to remember what you thought about. Also, if there is something you can do now to mitigate the impact of your mistake, do it!

Turning a mistake into fuel for the learning process is critical to becoming a better learner. Don’t just avoid your mistakes by distractions or use mental tricks to make yourself feel better. Figure out how to change your behavior for the next time.

Remember the definition: Leadership is the process of learning…

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