Why Some Leaders Get a Pass When They Make Mistakes

Why Some Leaders Get a Pass When They Make Mistakes

I once thought that I made a mistake but it turned out that I was wrong. I could not resist that opening line. Though I am not a comedian, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I hate to make mistakes and I make them all too often.  The good news is that you don’t have to be “mistake free” in order to be effective. You certainly don’t want to make the same mistakes over and over. Outstanding leaders seek to minimize their mistakes and any diligent organization should do likewise. The person who never admits that they have made mistakes commits perhaps an even more egregious error than committing a mistake in the first place.

Russ Gasdia was once ask what he considered to be the three characteristics of an effective leader. He replied, “humility, humility, humility. Effective leaders know they make mistakes, accept feedback from others to learn, admit that they don’t always know what’s right, and recognize that it is ‘not all about them.’ When they succeed they are humble. When they fail, they are humble. And lastly, they never think they are more important than their customer.”

Confidence is commendable but I believe we can all agree that arrogance is contemptible. Always do your best and seek to minimize your mistakes. However, you may have noticed that some leaders get “a pass” when they make mistakes and perhaps you can too. Those who get through the errors and continue to thrive have these qualities in common:

  1. They have established a pattern of excellence and effectiveness while big mistakes are the exception rather than the rule.
  2. They have focused on building relationships and therefore people know their motives are pure even if the outcome sometimes falls short.
  3. They tend to make long-term commitments and don’t quickly move from place to place.
  4. They tend to exercise grace themselves when others make mistakes.
  5. They are always purposefully progressing in their skills and leadership abilities.

Do not misunderstand the intent of this message. Egregious errors and moral failures, while they can be forgiven, will result in the forfeit of leadership opportunities. But effective leaders find a way to be strengthened by mistakes rather than crippled by them. Examine yourself in light of these five qualities and apply them to strengthen your leadership even amidst occasional mistakes.

*Paragraph 2 taken from chapter 2 of John G. Millers’ Outstanding!