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Not Making Mistakes? You're Failing Your Team.

Great leaders celebrate success - a pat on the back, free lunch for the team, or a Friday afternoon off. Great leaders also celebrate mistakes. Mistakes help people grow, help organizations be relevant, and mistakes sometimes end up with the best ideas; check out Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the pacemaker, or Dr. Spencer Silver, whose “failure” led to the invention of the Post-It Note. Here are four things to consider as you incorporate mistake-making into your culture:

1. Start With You - We often say, “You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room.” That encourages your team members to come up with new ideas. Leaders admitting mistakes means “You don’t have to be the most perfect person in the room.” Try new ways of leading by delegating more, engaging employees with a new game, or communicating better - and if you make a mistake, don’t hide it.

2. Choose a Few Fearless Employees - Getting in a room and saying “OK - we’re now all going to make mistakes” will not be the way to change your culture. You most likely have people on your team who would rather go skydiving than make a mistake in front of their peers. Choose one or two people you know will try something different. Tell them they’re the examples of fearless mistake-makers and celebrate their efforts.

3. Find the Better Way - Don’t end with, "Oh we failed at that so let’s never try that again.” Take mistakes and encourage team members to reflect on what they did and discuss what the team can do together to make it better. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

4. Don’t Ignore Successes - We’re not suggesting you back off on celebrating success. But if you only celebrate the things that go right, no one will want to try anything that’s not foolproof. So continue the pats on the back, the “thank yous”, and the gifts that say “I value you!”

Have your own ideas to create a culture that encourages mistakes? Try them out, experiment, screw up, then find what works for your team and your organization.


I was inspired to write this blog after I listened to the Coaching for Leaders podcast #276: Employee Engagement With Management 3.0, wiht Jurgen Appelo. It's 42 minutes long; perfect for a workout or dog walk.

We work closely with businesses to create open and safe cultures that attract and retain hard-working people. Learn more about our keynotes, workshops, emerging leader training and team building sessions by emailing Margie Adams at or go to

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