It probably goes without saying that I spend a good portion of my time looking on the bright side. I named my company Bright Side Inc. nearly 30 years ago after a professional awakening.
It was the late ’80s, and I was working in the machine tool industry, a business that is now remembered as another example of the vulnerability of big, seemingly untouchable industries. I looked on as it careened off course as a result of myopic thinking and a refusal to change and adapt. I witnessed the evaporation of the industry, company and, as a result, my job. At the time, this shook me to the core. I was excelling in my job, on the fast track to being one of the high-powered executives whom I admired. And then it was gone.
This experience triggered the realization that a company is a living community of people whose personal behaviors and attitudes direct its collective action. So, if personal behaviors have the power to crush entire industries, do they also have the power to transform, elevate and accelerate? Yes, they do.
I started with myself. I began the hard work of changing my own thinking and behaviors, shifting from the trap of negativity and narrow thinking to increased awareness. I started working with business leaders to increase their personal awareness, embrace their errors in thinking and become masters of change. And Bright Side was born.The bright side of wrong
Despite my continuous pursuit of self-awareness, it can be hard, even for me, to always accept and embrace my errors. Like most, my natural reaction is the belief that the mistake is a reflection of my personal failings.
Being wrong does not indicate laziness, stupidity or evil intent. This perception of wrongness has no use, nor does the shame that accompanies being wrong. We cannot guilt ourselves into performing better, nor can we shame an employee into better results. Rather, embracing mistakes as not only an inevitable part of life but as part of the learning that gets us closer to more informed decision-making frees us from loathing ourselves and shaming others for their mistakes.
Recently, we worked with a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company who was so concerned with always being right, showing up with answers in hand, that he not only crumbled when he was not right, denying his mistake and pushing blame to others, but he missed the learning that came from not always knowing the answer. We worked to help him shift his thinking and start embracing his inevitable mistakes. Once he changed his view of making mistakes, he freed himself from the pressure of always being right and opened himself to the knowledge and experience of his colleagues.
The next time you realize you have made a mistake, whether it is trivial, like you’ve mispronounced a word, or it is one with more significant consequences, try embracing the error.
Work to resist the urge to immediately defend yourself externally and berate yourself internally. Instead, try admitting and accepting the error.
Put it in perspective. This is especially difficult because of the feelings that immediately surface (embarrassment, shame) and the thoughts that instantly flood our minds (“I’m an idiot. How could I be so careless?”) Acknowledge those thoughts and feelings as they come up and then let them go. Remind yourself that mistakes will happen and assure yourself that even if you feel like a royal idiot, you’re not.
Ask yourself, “What can I learn?” Reframing the error as an opportunity to learn something new enables you to stop dwelling on the mistake and instead focus on how swiftly you turn an error into an opportunity.
Remember, mistakes are entirely normal. Forgive yourself, then recognize and reward yourself for all that you did right.
Donna Rae Smith is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a behavioral strategy firm that teaches leaders to be masters of change. For more than two decades, Donna Rae Smith and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in organizational and leadership development and the key partner to more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or e-mail Smith at email@example.com.