By Steve Watkins
It’s natural to run into obstacles. But if you can learn from mistakes and make them yours, you can overcome them.
Studying top leaders over the years, shows you how they used mistakes to finally reach success.
Leaders best at overcoming mistakes are the ones who own those missteps in the first place, says Antigoni Ladd, co-founder of Gettysburg, Pa.-based Tigrett Leadership Academy. The firm provides leadership training using historical lessons.
Learn From Mistakes Like Dwight Eisenhower, Walt Disney
Dwight Eisenhower led a World War II invasion of North Africa that included a disastrous clash with German Gen. Rommel at Kasserine Pass. More than 1,000 American troops were killed and hundreds were taken prisoner.
Eisenhower took responsibility. He learned he needed more teamwork and cohesion among his troops and a single strategy. Eisenhower later allowed every general to share his opinion before making his own call. This move prepared forces from 12 countries to team up in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944.
“He restructured the Allied forces from top to bottom, with the goal of working together more effectively,” Ladd said. “That goal would prove so critical for the Normandy invasion.”
Legendary animator and theme park developer Walt Disney suffered multiple failures. His first cartoon business, launched with his brother Roy, went bankrupt. He moved to Los Angeles and failed at acting but launched an animation studio that was a huge success.
“He failed a number of times but he picked himself up,” Ladd said.
Disney figured failing could help him. “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all the troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me,” he once said. “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Dissect Your Failure First
To learn from mistakes, it’s vital to start by looking at why they occurred, says Rick McDaniel, founder and senior pastor at Richmond Community Church in Richmond, Va. It could be something unexpected, such as the coronavirus outbreak, or it could be a bad decision or failure to plan. Then look at how you can learn from it.
The way you frame failure is a key to learn from those mistakes.
“You need to be failure-friendly,” McDaniel, an inspirational speaker and author of “Turn Your Setbacks Into Comebacks,” told Investor’s Business Daily. “Understand if you’re going to be innovative you’re going to encounter failure. You have to take failure as feedback.”
McDaniel started four campuses and two schools, so he knows about innovation — and failure.
“You need to fail forward,” he said. “Keep adapting and tweaking. That will allow you to learn how to do it in the future.”
The way leaders look at failure is key. Some see it as making them a failure and avoid it at all costs. Psychologists call it “awfulizing” and it’s the wrong view, McDaniel says.
“There’s an enormous difference between failing and being a failure,” he said.
Learn From Mistakes: Make Failure Your Friend
McDaniel strives to create a culture that’s failure-friendly. He describes failures in spoken and written communications with his staff. He stresses admitting what didn’t work and eyeing what the company learned. And he vows the group will do better next time.
“Then people don’t take it as something to be feared, but something to be owned up to,” he said. “View it as part of the creative process.”
Failure is often just a small part of the larger goal, Ladd says. Emphasize that to your people.
“Paint a picture of future success and show them this is only a bump in the road,” she said.
Winston Churchill, who bounced back from mistakes in World War I to lead Great Britain through World War II, took a valuable view to learn from mistakes.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal,” Churchill said. “It is the courage to continue that counts.”