Growing from Your Mistakes: It Pays to Be Honest
We all make mistakes, but only the wise use them as a tool for personal and professional growth. However, your missteps will lead to positive outcomes only if you are willing to be honest with yourself and acknowledge where you went wrong.
We previously discussed the role that learning can play in spurring professional growth, with a focus on externally driven education. In this article, we build on this idea to highlight how you can grow as a leader by driving change from within. It starts with an honest look in the mirror.
Identifying your shortcomings
What are your weaknesses? For many, this is a jarring question, but to grow you need to ask it.
Begin with a good, hard look at yourself. Have there been any situations in the past year where you made a mistake at work or performed below expectations? Most likely, you already have a sense of some areas where you have room for improvement. Try to trace any mistakes back to your behaviour or personality to understand why they may have occurred.
In addition to self-assessing your weaknesses, it’s helpful to seek external input – whether it’s from your boss, your employees or even your friends and family. This can be tricky as it requires making yourself vulnerable to criticism, but it’s worthwhile if you can do it. At work, this is often easier to do when it is part of an annual performance review or feedback session.
Wherever it takes place and whoever is involved, this process works only if everyone is open, honest and respectful.
Acknowledging your imperfections
Use your self-assessment and external feedback to make a list of your shortcomings. However, do so without judgement – it’s crucial to approach this process objectively to avoid clouding your thoughts with hostility, defensiveness or shame.
In order to grow, you need to accept your starting point. This is not the time to run and hide from reality. Instead, it’s an opportunity for you to say, “I’m not good at X, or sometimes I can be too Y.”
As you acknowledge these things, keep the following in mind:
- No one is perfect, and everyone has their own imperfections.
- People have the power to change, so whatever weaknesses you have now are not a life sentence.
In addition, always remember that the aim – both your own and the aim of those around you – is not to make you feel bad, but instead to help you become a better leader, employee, team player, friend or family member.
Planning for improvement
Identifying and accepting your weaknesses are necessary steps, but they won’t help you grow if you fail to take action. You need a plan to train yourself to think and act in new ways.
As you work on your plan, keep in mind that a specific and realistic plan is far more useful than one that is vague and overly ambitious. If one of your weaknesses is sending off angry emails that you later regret, telling yourself that starting tomorrow you’re never going to send off an angry email again is unrealistic. Instead, try implementing a practical strategy that will help minimize these situations.
For example, set yourself a mandatory one-hour cooling off period before hitting send on any email about a situation that gets your blood boiling. After one hour, review what you’ve written, identify any angry language and consider whether there are less confrontational ways to get your message across.
As humans, we are constantly changing as we adapt to the people, ideas and situations around us. How you change – whether it is slipping down a negative path or growing in a positive direction – is influenced by your willingness to identify, acknowledge and address your mistakes and weaknesses.
Your flaws and blunders don’t define you, but if you’re honest about them and take active steps to change, the payoff is likely to be personal and professional growth.