Mistakes Can Be an Entrepreneur's Best Teacher (If You're Ready to Learn)

Any successful entrepreneur or business leader will be able to share numerous stories of prior mistakes and missteps that paved the way for their success. The importance of mistakes can be so powerful that venture capitalist Chris Lynch says he prefers to invest in founders who have failed (and become stronger and wiser as a result).

The problem is that just making a mistake isn't enough; it's how you recover and learn from the mistake that makes the difference. And this typically requires behavioral traits and characteristics that don't come naturally to most of us.

But it is possible to flip your mistakes around and turn them into a positive growth experience. The ability to do this will strengthen you as an entrepreneur and as a person.

Stop the impulse to blame or justify

We're taught in school and society that mistakes and failure are shameful things, and should be avoided at all costs. Our entire educational landscape - especially our obsession with testing and multiple choice tests - tells kids that there's just one right answer, and it's never good to be wrong. With this background, it's no wonder that whenever we make a mistake, our natural instinct is to try to justify our actions - or blame someone else for the situation.

The problem is that as soon as you start blaming other people or outside circumstances, you completely spoil any chance of learning from the mistake. The first step is to move away from assigning blame and have the courage to stand up and say, "this is my mistake and I own it." The learning process begins the minute you start taking responsibility.

Accepting responsibility is easy when it's something simple - like forgetting your toast in the toaster to the point it starts to smoke. But for more serious matters, it's easy to slip back into the trap of making excuses why it isn't our fault. When I find myself retreating back to this behavior, I remind myself of two things: 1) mistakes aren't unusual; they're actually the norm for all of humankind, and 2) I'm very likely to repeat this mistake if I'm not honest about what happened and why.

Instill a culture of acceptance in your workplace

Managers and business leaders have an important role to play in shaping how their company and teams respond to failure. Of course, no business owner or manager wants mistakes to happen. But they do. If you build a culture that's based on finger-pointing, your teams are going to spend their time worrying how to blame others, rather than learning from their own mistakes.

You want to build a culture where employees feel personally accountable and engaged in making decisions. They need to know that mistakes aren't the end of the world; otherwise they'll be too shy to extend themselves and take on more responsibility.

In addition, when people aren't completely ashamed of their mistakes, they'll be more likely to share their experience with others. When I make a mistake, I share it with my staff. This enables everyone to provide input on what parts of the process or workflow need improved. Most importantly, when you share pitfalls, it helps everyone avoid making a similar mistake in the future.

Stop expecting perfection

The most important thing I've learned about mistakes is that if you go through life afraid to make a mistake then you'll never try anything. In business today, it's imperative to make split second decisions. When you move fast, there's always a chance that you'll make some mistakes, but the alternative (not doing anything) is much worse.

Over the years as a CEO, I've come to realize that it's best to be quick to fail, but then slow to pivot once you make a decision; too many changes too fast will turn your company into a rudderless ship.

So, go take chances and put yourself out there. Make mistakes, and be the first to admit it. Then, learn, grow, and be ready to do it all over again.