Whenever I deliver a keynote, I always like to tell a story or two about a mistake that I made. Why? Because as I reflect on the pivotal moments in my life—they often happened as the result of a mistake that I made.
Legendary basketball coach Dean Smith had a great saying: “What to do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.”
Failure is just feedback to learn from, change and improve. Without these mistakes, I wouldn’t understand the importance of accountability and resilience.
As a freshman at Michigan State, I remember my first “real life” lesson… wrapped up in the form of a big, fat mistake. Like many college freshmen, independence was new to me, and I took full advantage of it. I found myself in a sorority, playing on the Michigan State Women’s tennis team, partying with new friends and going to classes (most of the time). For a time I was able to make it all work. But when I told my Mom how “fun” college was, she responded “Molly, you can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.” And man, she was right. Because I did have it all… until I got my grades. My fall term ended with a 1.8 GPA.
What an embarrassing wake-up call (by the way don’t send this blog to my kids). I was one of only two girls who couldn’t be active in my sorority due to academics, and I barely kept my spot on the tennis team. My low grades scared me to death. When I told my mom about my GPA, she didn’t make a big deal about it. She simply said, “You are better than this. Go fix it.” So I did. I became fast friends with the library, my classes, professors and books. After that term, I got a 4.0 six terms in a row, and I graduated with high honors. Looking back, it was one of the best things that happened to me. I was able to re-focus, prioritize, and shift into making the right choices to be the person I wanted to be.
Opportunity to fail
Most importantly, my mom gave me the opportunity to fail—and recover quickly. She didn’t jump in to rescue me like so many parents tend to do. It’s a mistake that leaders make too. Managers might not let an employee take the ball because they don’t think they are “ready.” Sometimes we learn great things when maybe we do take the ball a little early; but then we fail and recover. We might actually evolve more quickly this way than if our leader doesn’t give us a shot.
In my podcast conversation with Alison Levine she talks about how she often learns more from a failed attempt at summiting a mountain than a successful summit, and I love that perspective. To her it’s not just about the final achievement, but what lessons she learns along the way, and how those lessons help both her and other mountaineers. This couldn’t be more true in leadership and in life.
Game Changer Takeaway
Some of the best leaders in the world have made some of the worst mistakes. The difference is they treated their missteps as stepping stones. They didn’t let failure defeat them; they let their fear of failure fuel them. Have the courage to make mistakes and the insight to let those mistakes make you a smarter, stronger and better leader every day.
The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach business people the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.