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Accept mistakes so people learn

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

by Morey Stettner

Years ago, Herb Kohler had what he deemed a great idea. As head of the Kohler Co., a diversified manufacturer in Wisconsin, he bought the company's biggest distributor of plumbing products in France.

In an interview with Small Business Times, he explains that his plan was to use the French distributor as a launching pad into the German market. But the acquisition turned into what he calls "a bloody disaster."

Kohler's firm lost a lot of money, so he sold the venture and "went on to much better things." No kidding. Today, the 69-year-old executive is worth an estimated $4 billion.

Kohler realized his mistake, took corrective (albeit painful) action and learned from it. That's a formula for success we can all emulate.

For many managers, mistakes are taboo. It's tempting to hide a costly error if you work in an organization that does not tolerate mistakes—or if your job security is already shaky.

Yet when I interview chief executives, I'm often struck by their willingness to acknowledge their high-profile blunders. They also tend to accept and even applaud mistakes that their key people confess. They know that the most serious harm rarely results from the mistake itself, but by the subsequent denial or cover up. That's why the most enlightened leaders create an environment that encourages people to take risks and fail publicly without fear.

When was the last time you admitted a mistake to higher-ups?

If an answer popped into mind right away, that's a good sign. An even better sign is if they responded positively to your admission and even praised you for your effort—and for coming forward.

Set an example with your employees and welcome their mistakes. Extract lessons without assigning blame.Engage the rest of your team to identify learning points.

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