Do You Have a Top 5 List of Mistakes You Have Made in Your Job?
By John Baldoni
What would it take you to stand up and deliver a presentation called, “All My Worst Mistakes”?
Sound crazy. Well, it’s exactly what Dr. Henry Marsh, a noted neurosurgeon, did in a talk he gave at American hospital where he holds an honorary post. Marsh tells this story in his memoir, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. As gifted as Marsh is as a surgeon, he’s also a talented writer who is also something of a wit.
As he notes in the chapter about this talk: “I found it consoling, when thinking about some of the mistakes I have made in my career, to learn that errors of judgment and the propensity to make mistakes are, so to speak, built into the human brain.” Ironic for a neurosurgeon who makes his living cutting into brains to admit!
Irony aside, Marsh’s topic got me thinking about mistakes I have made in my career. Not career choices per se, but mistakes where I have not done my best for my client. I would like to think that none of my shortcomings were intentional, but that would be presumptuous. It was not, that like Dr. Marsh, I ever set out to do a bad job, but at times I may have been busy, preoccupied or worse expeditious; and as a result I did poorly for my client.
In this regard I don’t think I am unique. In fact, it makes me a member of the human race. And while it is never pleasant to dwell on what we did wrong, it is a useful exercise. I recall a trip to the U.S. Army College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where I gave a talk, and noticing a building with a title something like “lessons learned.” When I inquired about the purpose of the building, I was advised that it housed the Army’s collection of After Action Reports (AAR) containing narratives of Army wartime engagements. Studying AARs gives the reader a no-holds barred picture of what went right as well as what went wrong, including casualties. Sober reading indeed.
The AAR practice is not unique to our military. I have worked with many organizations that employ the practice. In fact such a methodology is inherent in lean thinking that facilitates continuous improvement because upon closed loop learning that shares lessons in real time.
Still it is one thing to be critical of organizational miscues, and quite another to be open about one’s own mistakes. It takes a brave soul, but also a strong being, to admit to mistakes of your own making. Yet it is necessary, especially if you want to continue to grow and develop your abilities in your discipline as well as your capacity to lead others.
So often what makes leaders appealing is their humanity. Those who admit failings are those who project self-assurance that stems from self-knowledge. While they don’t enjoy telling stories on themselves, they are secure enough to admit their shortcomings. Granted a person in authority who is always messing up, no matter how comfortable he may be with himself, is not worthy of followership. There are limits to the number and type of screw ups after all.
As an exercise it may be worthwhile taking the time to itemize a top five (or even top ten) list of mistakes you have made in your career. By focusing on what you did wrong you will realize your limits, and likely you will also realize something else. Your ability to recover from those mistakes!
Those who succeed in their careers are those who are willing to apply a critical eye to themselves. There will be things to criticize. But there will also be things to praise. And there should be comfort in that discovery.
This article was written by John Baldoni from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.