In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews.
Cliches are clichés for a reason. Here is one that is frequently invoked and entirely true: you will learn from your mistakes. Indeed, this tired old cliché is a professional inevitability, because you don’t possess all necessary knowledge right now. You will try, fail and learn, but the learning will only come to you if you can admit your mistakes, both to yourself and others. Denying mistakes will stifle your growth and could do considerable damage to your relationships with those around you.
Imagine you made a simple error – you zigged instead of zagging. Zagging was definitely the right way to go, but you didn’t know – how could you have known? You zigged. Your boss stops in and inquires as to why you zigged. Surprised, you start to explain why zigging was the right course, but both you and he know zigging was absolutely not the right course. He starts to pursue your reasoning – why are you still defending the choice to zig, which was so clearly wrong? You take it further. He takes it further. You don’t give up and keep defending zigging with flawed logic. Frustrated and confused, he walks away. You haven’t admitted that you went the wrong way, but he knows it and now he regards you as stubborn and worries that the mistake will repeat itself, because you don’t consider it as such.
Now, imagine that you made an error. You zigged instead of zagging and you know that zagging was the right way to go. Your boss comes by and asks why you chose to zig and you tell him it was an error and you explain your flawed reasoning. He works through your thought process, shows you where you went wrong and teaches you how to avoid the same error in the future. You thank him. He says, “No problem.” You have a clear conscience and new skills and he knows that you are determined to get better. Then, next time, you zag and he is thrilled. You are both happier and you have a new skill.
It all seems really simple, but the zag scenario doesn’t come easily to a lot of people. Being forthright about being wrong can seem risky, but the bigger the stakes, the more disarming admitting an error can actually be. In fact, studies have shown that doctors who admit errors in dealing with patients causing death are less likely to be sued than those who refuse to take responsibility. The odds are, your stakes will be a lot lower in a typical MBA profession. Consider owning up to errors large and small – just do your best to make them only once.