Leaders: Are You Examining Your Mistakes to Prevent Future Failures?

How often do you limit your success because you make assumptions or use outdated behaviors that once served your success but are no longer effective? Are you rigorously examining what you do and how you do it to continually improve yourself as a leader?

I was on a call this week with a colleague recounting a few minor communication issues. The foundation of these issues was that he thought he was clear and the other person consistently misunderstood. Both are competent people but they “speak different languages” based on their significantly different professional experiences and now they work for the same organization. Individually the miscommunications were minor so I never brought them up. However, as time passed the minor miscommunications accumulated into a major issue that needed to be addressed. On my part, I was making assumptions. Assumptions are things that we suppose, either verbally or through our behavior, to be factual but are not actually in evidence. I believed there were limitations about the work that were not true for him. As I look back at the disconnects over the years, there is a theme to my assumptions. For me, the assumption is something like: they are way too ______ (busy, important, successful, etc.) to have time for me. How often have I allowed this assumption to interfere with my success?

One of the key themes of Innovative Leadership is building self-awareness and self-management, both key elements of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness and self-management enable us to build strong, trusting relationships. Leaders are leaders because they have shown the ability to gain other’s trust. If leaders are not self-aware, they run the risk of breaking that trust by seeming duplicative, conniving, or — even worse — complacent. I recommend the following questions to help you to become aware of your behaviors and begin making changes:

  1. What is my contribution to this situation?
  2. Is there a pattern or theme across a range of relationships or is it unique to my relationship with a particular person?
  3. What can I change within myself to improve this specific situation?
  4. What can/should I change within myself to improve in all situations?
  5. What conversation do I have with the other person to restore the balance in the relationship? Does this include a request for them to adjust their behavior?
  6. Are my other relationships impacted by the same behavior? Should I have a similar conversation about misunderstandings to restore balance?
  7. How to I monitor my success in behavior change? Who gives me feedback?

We all make assumptions that sometimes result in behaviors that drive situations to unintended outcomes. It takes courage to look in the mirror and take ownership of our assumptions — especially if our assumptions are deep-seated and we have a significant opportunity to improve. One of the traits of strong leaders is that they challenge and examine their assumptions with the spirit of a scientist to identify opportunities to improve.

Reflection questions for you to consider:

  • Are you evaluating yourself and your interactions in a way that will allow you to continually improve?
  • Will you use this process to improve your interactions?

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the Author

Maureen Metcalf, founder and CEO of Metcalf & Associates, Inc., is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach who brings thirty years of business experience to provide high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. She is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with the strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

In addition to working as an executive advisor, Maureen designs and teaches MBA classes in Leadership and Organizational Transformation. She is also the host of an international radio show focusing on innovative leadership, and the author of an award-winning book series on Innovative Leadership, including the Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, winner of a 2014 International Book Award.