How often have you done or said something and then wished you could take it back? Unfortunately, we usually can’t imitate Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and ask people to “strike that, reverse it.”
One of the more challenging aspects of Acting with Integrity is to admit and learn from our mistakes. I’ve made a couple of public missteps over the past year, as I suppose is inevitable when learning to communicate in a new organizational culture. Fortunately, one can’t die of embarrassment and colleagues are usually kind enough to give you a pass, assuming the same thing doesn’t happen again.
There are a couple of aspects of learning from my mistakes that have been significant this past year. First, I’ve had to avoid the temptation to block out a bad memory and just pretend the mistake never happened. By doing so, I would miss an opportunity to grow as a leader. On the other hand, at some point I need to address it as best as I can and then move on. Dwelling on past mistakes is equally harmful to leadership development.
Second, I’ve learned a lot from thoughtful colleagues who have had the grace to give me difficult feedback in a constructive way. It’s very difficult to say “I know it isn’t what you intended, but here’s how that behavior looked to others.” For the receiver, constructive feedback can also be hard to hear. But backing away from defensiveness and listening carefully can provide valuable insights into our blind spots and allow for growth that can’t come any other way.
Mostly, you can learn from your mistakes without turning into a blueberry along the way.
Dee Anne Bonebright