Everyone makes mistakes. Most of them are relatively harmless. But some of them can scuttle a project. Or ding your reputation. Or even derail your career.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Smart people learn from their mistakes. The really sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.
That’s the lesson from Skip Prichard’s insightful new book called (are you ready for it?) The Book of Mistakes: 9 Secrets to Creating a Successful Future.
I interviewed Prichard to get a flavor for what he’s learned from his research into the lives of CEOs, sports legends, and other imperfect people.
Rodger Dean Duncan: You identify nine mistakes people make at work. On what basis (gut feel, observation, research) did you compile this list?
Skip Prichard: The nine mistakes were derived from my own experiences as a CEO of global organizations, interviews with over 1,000 successful leaders, and decades of studying leadership. Each one of the mistakes has corresponding research associated with it. For instance, some of the initial research I tapped was on those nearing death and their regrets. At the top of the list is “I wish I had been truer to myself.” That research formed the initial framing of the first mistake.
Duncan: If a person has already made most (if not all) of the mistakes you identify, what steps do you recommend for getting on a productive track?
Prichard: Most of us will identify with the mistakes and will recognize that we have made all of them. The book is written in a way that allows you to see the characters learning from the mistakes and thus encouraging introspection. Self-leadership always precedes public leadership. Each mistake requires a different type of action plan depending on the circumstances. Most of what we need to do is already inside, but we need to recognize and stop ourselves. One of the things I say in the book is that “The most important microphone is the one in our mind.” We need to guard it like a precious asset, tuning in to the positive and tuning out the voices that discourage us. If there’s one thing that will help us get back on a productive track, this is where it starts.
Duncan: What advice do you offer someone who is relatively free of making the mistakes you write about but is surrounded by co-workers who make most of the mistakes?
Prichard: All of us make these mistakes from time to time. No one is immune. There is a companion e-book called The Leadership Guide to The Book of Mistakes that’s designed to help leaders work with their teams and with individuals or companies stuck in one of the mistakes. If someone is repeatedly making a mistake, I believe it’s a leader’s job to help that person recognize it and move through it in order to succeed. That usually starts with the leader’s transparency and admitting his or her own struggles with the mistake.
Duncan: In writing about Mistake #5—Stay in Your Comfort Zone—you say mediocrity is a result of too much comfort. What do you see as the keys to expanding one’s comfort zone?
Prichard: If you want to be average, do what’s easy. You think, “Hey, I’ve worked hard all day, I need to kick back and watch TV all night.” Before you know it, hours have passed, the day is gone, and another cycle begins. You won’t become your best self unless you try new things, set big goals, and pursue your passion.
To expand our comfort zone, it’s also important to start with our mindset. We need to develop the courage to tackle our goals. Often, something is holding us back, and it takes courage and grit to change. Acquiring or divesting a company, for instance, is difficult if we are happily safe in our comfort zone. We may have an internal voice saying, “Why take on the headache?” If we have developed a mindset of experimentation and growth, we are able to override the desire for comfort to achieve something bigger.
Duncan: You suggest that successful people have a sense of urgency. What does that urgency “look like” in terms of daily behaviors?
I recently talked with someone who thought she was working with a sense of urgency. When we spoke, I said that a sense of urgency is not a frenetic, harried, overly-stressed existence where you are careening from one thing to the next. She laughed when she realized that was her definition.
To me, having a healthy sense of urgency means you are focused on your goals and you are honestly assessing your progress toward them each day. You are making progress and achieving the milestones you need to in order to get where you want to go.
Duncan: Why did you choose to write your book as a business fable?
Prichard: My goal was to write an uplifting book that teaches lessons in an entertaining way. I wanted to encourage discussion and felt that a story would allow discussion on multiple levels. Research shows we remember stories more than facts and, therefore, the lessons stick with us. Richard Branson once said, “The art of storytelling can be used to drive change.” I’m hopeful that this little story can spark the internal change needed to improve your future.
9 Common Mistakes
- Working on someone else’s dream
- Allowing someone else to define your value
- Accepting excuses
- Surrounding yourself with the wrong people
- Staying in your comfort zone
- Allowing temporary setbacks to become personal failures
- Blending in instead of standing out
- Thinking there is a fixed and limited amount of success available
- Believing you have all the time in the world
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