What Five Top Leaders Teach us About Mistakes


A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. – George Bernard Shaw

Fred Rogers shared a story about a young apprentice who applied to a master carpenter for a job. The older man asked him, “Do you know your trade?” “Yes sir!” the young man replied proudly.

“Have you ever made a mistake?” the older man inquired. “No sir!” the young man answered, feeling certain he would get the job. “Then there’s no way I’m going to hire you,” said the master carpenter, “because when you make one, you won’t know how to fix it.”

Mistakes are as much a part of our lives in leadership as any success. This is so because on the journey to success we make many mistakes. It’s all a part of the learning and the journey. I know I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and then some, how about you?

Churchill wisely observed, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” In the end, it’s not that you will make mistakes or have failures, but it’s all about your response and what you learn when you experience them.

From some of the top thinkers in leadership come words of advice and wisdom to help you put your mistakes in perspective. Here are my five favorites.

John Wooden – “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

Wooden’s take on mistakes should encourage all of us. Mistakes are made by “doers” who dare to take risks and accomplish their goals and dreams. Mistakes will not come to the person sitting on the sidelines and who is otherwise disengaged from the race. Setbacks and failures are made by doers like Edison, Ford, Disney, Spielberg, and you. Get in the game, get your hands dirty, and get a few mistakes under your belt. The sooner you do the sooner you will enjoy success.

Steve Jobs – “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.”

Steve Jobs characterizes people who make mistakes as “innovators”. Perhaps you’ve never thought of it this way before, but it’s a great perspective. Innovators are those tenacious people who never give up. Regardless of the ridicule, adversity, or circumstances, these innovators will gladly welcome the challenges that come with making mistakes. Your mistakes can either be your fuel and fire, or a bucket of water dashed upon your dreams. When you make mistakes- innovate!

Dale Carnegie – “The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way.”

What Carnegie is saying here is that no mistake, setback, or failure is ever in vain if you approach it with the right attitude and learn from it. Essential here is the learning. If you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again you haven’t learned from it. Profiting from your mistakes is when you figure out why the mistake happened and turning that negative experience into a positive one. Your success as a leader is connected to what you learn and applying the lesson.

Les Brown – “Forgive yourself for your faults and mistakes and move on.”

This is such good advice. We’ve all made our fair share of mistakes. But what good would any of us be as leaders if all we did was beat ourselves up because of our mistakes? Success will come to the leader who, after making a mistake, forgives himself/herself and moves on with a renewed purpose and determination to succeed. Don’t wallow in your mistakes, cut yourself some slack, and get moving.

John Maxwell – “The greatest mistake we make is living in constant fear that we will make one.”

This is such a powerful truth that all success-minded leaders should embrace. None of us will achieve any level of success without making mistakes, experiencing setbacks, and feeling the sting of failures. But living in a constant state of fear of making a mistake will only impede you from being in the game and trying. Don’t let the fear of failure paralyze you from being fully engaged and ready to compete, and ready to win.

What do you say?


© 2015 Doug Dickerson


About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
This entry was posted in Leadership and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Five Top Leaders Teach us About Mistakes

  1. Pingback: The Best of Lead With Giants – June 2015

What's your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s