Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nobody's perfect

Making mistakes are part of life; it's how you handle them that matters

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Someone said to me the other day that Manitobans are simply a cranky bunch. They complain when it's raining and they complain when it's hot. They complain when there's snow and they complain when there's not.

And now, we've spent a week hearing a flurry of complaints about the new football stadium. Oh my gosh, it isn't perfect. Therefore, it's a failure. Yes, a total failure!

Yet, there's the rub! Our society is so driven to reach perfection that we don't give ourselves much leeway for mistakes and/or unexpected hiccups. The new football stadium is a good example.

Yes, construction was one year delayed and all the planning in the world didn't stop the transit trauma on game day. It didn't prevent entranceway congestion or the need to flick the construction dust off seats. And all the planning in the world didn't prevent those long lines at a favourite concession stand.

On the other hand, it is well known that mistakes and imperfections can make us better people, better parents and/or better professionals. As Blue Bombers CEO Garth Buchko says, the recent opening-night challenges present a great opportunity and a learning experience. Without this initial experience, how could Buchko and his management identify and fix those problem areas?

Therefore, if we use the Bomber stadium as an example of having an opportunity to learn from mistakes, just how should/could we go about learning from our mistakes? The following suggestions might be helpful.

-- Admit the mistake. The only way to begin the journey to learning from a mistake is to admit you've actually made one. Blaming someone or something else only serves to create a distance between yourself and any possible lesson. Stand up and be counted, be courageous, admit the reality of the mistake and take personal responsibility for it.

-- Cast off feelings of shame. While we make every effort possible to avoid mistakes, life intervenes and things happen. And while it may be counter to traditional societal assumptions, there should be no shame in making a mistake. There should be no guilt. So if you hear a "you should've, you should've, you should've" voice in your head, cast it off and disregard this old parental adage. It simply no longer applies.

-- Analyze, analyze, analyze. Retrace your actions leading up to the mistake, step by step by step. Examine the impact. Determine if there were multiple little errors that affected the rest of the process. Did you make the correct assumptions? Was your goal truly attainable? Analyze, analyze, analyze.

-- Adopt a can-do attitude. Holding onto a positive attitude is critical to moving forward after a mistake has been made. Don't let it shatter your self-esteem. Remind yourself of other times when your resourcefulness resolved a problem. Be persistent, focus on success and use positive self-talk as a personal strategy to maintaining your personal self-confidence.

-- Focus on change. Overcoming a mistake requires you to change the way you've done things. If not, you will simply create the same mistake over and over again. Keep in mind that change will be uncomfortable and may cause stress and anxiety. Be sure to focus your attention on the end result.

-- Seek advice. Try to get as many perspectives on an issue as you can. Seek out the advice of an expert, but at the same time, seek out other individuals who have been in your predicament before and can offer practical advice. Sometimes just describing your issue and the mistake made helps create new solutions and helps create a new path to success.

-- Be courageous. Overcoming workplace mistakes requires courageous, if not bold and unpopular strategies and tactics. When you meet resistance, you must have the courage to push through your ideas, take a risk and innovate. Of course, do your risk assessment, but use both your head and your heart to make the right decision.

-- Renew commitment. Sticking to your issue rather than abandoning it because of one mistake, major or otherwise, is the sign of a good leader. Renew your commitment to resolving the problem and once you set a path to correction, be steadfast in moving forward. Be sure that your commitment is well-publicized, as there will be many undercurrent grumblings as you work hard to get everyone on side with your ideas.

-- Be patient. Overcoming a workplace mistake may require several iterations of improvement as future glitches can arise that were not evident as you started down your path. As well, we all know that making something happen in the workplace takes three times as long as people will have imagined. Once again, focus on envisioning the success of your project, develop reasonable time frames, plan for "wiggle" room in the case of delays, and be patient.

-- Inject a sense of humour. There is indeed truth to the old saying that laughter is the best medicine, because humour can definitely be used as a coping mechanism. It's well-known that humour can change one's mood, overcome feelings of anger and help us look at life from a new perspective. If you can laugh at your own mistakes, then you are on the path to moving forward.

-- Assess your learning. As mentioned, there are always lessons to be learned from any errors made. Once you have rectified the error and moved on to success, be sure to take time to assess what you learned from the situation. Determine what you would do if you were in this situation in the future. Find three key learnings, write them down and perhaps place a "sticky" on your computer or at least put it in your notebooks.

-- Give yourself credit. Once you've worked through your mistake and learned from it, don't forget to pat yourself on the back! You've taken up the challenge, identified the mistake, owned it, fixed it and learned from it. That's a great accomplishment. While it's sometimes disheartening and hard to overcome, challenges and life experience build courage, risk-taking, self-esteem and self-confidence.

As a society, we have an opportunity to rid ourselves of this convoluted idea of perfection and accept that no one and nothing is perfect. We need to look at mistakes as simply learning experiences, growth opportunities and leadership opportunities. And finally, with respect to the new Investors Field stadium, in spite of all the complaints, isn't it much better than the old stadium?

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed., is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 H1

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