When Things Go Wrong, What Can We Learn?
Last week I was coaching a client who has a tendency to be hard on herself. She admitted to me that when things don’t go as planned at work, she usually beats herself up about it and thinks about the mistakes she made or the poor decision she made. We established that for much of her career, this mindset has been her default. When things go wrong, she blames herself.
We proceeded to examine potential alternate ways of thinking. As I have written here before, leaders’ most significant growth occurs when they are able to shift their thinking patterns.
After our exploration of possible thinking shifts, she acknowledged that her leadership skills and experience have prepared her to look at these incidents and experiences in a different light: as learning opportunities.
We all experience different kinds of setbacks during our careers: incorrect strategic decisions, poor hiring decisions, project failures, loss of control, inaccurate planning, and many others. The key question to always ask is not what went wrong, but what have I learned from this particular episode.
Every unfortunate event that happens at work can be turned into a learning opportunity. Too often, leaders are so busy blaming themselves or a teammate, moving onto the next project, or checking the next box that they do not give themselves permission to pause and think about what they’ve learned.
There are many ways to memorialize what we have learned.
-Some leaders keep yellow stickies on their desk and jot down lessons learned on a daily basis.
-Others keep a legal pad in a top desk drawer to write down learnings as they occur.
-Different leaders keep a learnings folder on their cell phones and dictate lessons learned on their commutes home in the evening.
After our coaching discussion, my client agreed that she would like to start and maintain a learning journal. Maintaining such a journal requires self-discipline and a commitment to making the time for reflection.
Keeping a learning journal allows us to record all kinds of leadership lessons on a daily or weekly basis. When we write learnings down, we remember them more easily. And when we remember them, we are more likely to apply these lessons and share them with our teammates.
I encourage you to consider the wisdom of a learning journal for yourself. We always learn during our leadership journeys.
The key question is do we retain the large and small lessons we’ve learned? Do we apply them going forward for the benefit of ourselves and the people we lead?