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Pain to Progress: How High Achievers Recover from Making Mistakes at Work

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Welcome listeners to today's episode of Tuesdays with Coach Mo

With what's happening in the world around us, it got me thinking about how you, the high achiever with Executive ambitions, with leadership strengths, with access to resources, specialized intelligence, handled multimillion-dollar deals, and are recognized as a star performer realized that you have made a mistake. How do you cope up? How exactly goes through your mind and what do you have to do to assess the situation and make sure that you will become a better version of yourself. Besides, we are all human and it's part of human life experience. 


The thing about mistakes is:


1) they can happen to anyone at any time (nanosecond or cultivated over days, months, or years),

2) they can be external and due to some unforeseen event or they can be self-imposed and internal,

3) however, most importantly the key to recovering from a mistake is to have a plan so that you can unpack what happened, learned from you, and not repeat it again. 


Now in the business world that I'm familiar with the use of the term debrief. And it is in the debrief that follows the launch of a product or big initiative, or proposal that all participants come together and debrief the successes and the shortcomings in an effort to improve upon either the process or the possible results.


And, so similar for you, consider the debrief process you will use to examine a mistake you have made. 


When it comes to professionals making mistakes, it's very important that in order to appropriately recover, you must understand what happened and how you got to that place.


In today's podcast, I'm going to share what I believe are the components of a debrief for you to do on your own or with others. 


 Let’s establish some basic points about Mistakes.

  • They can vary far and wide. "Not all mistakes are created equal"
  • They can occur within nanoseconds; like with the push of a button (or wrong button) or they can be nurtured over a period while slowly growing; like cells in a petri dish
  • the consequences of a mistake can range from a hit to your reputation, your performance at work, your self-image, undermine valuable relationships or possibly even result in -- job loss. 


Keep listening as I'm going to share with you stories of mistakes made by some of my coaching clients over the years that might be helpful to your current situations at work.


Components for debriefing a mistake:

  1.  Make the time to examine what has occurred. Being able to unilaterally determine this will be directly related to the scale and scope of the mistake made. Be certain to establish a time when you have the mental capacity to think clearly.  
  2.  Clarify the problem. Determine what are the facts or evidence. What were the assumptions made? 
  3.  Zoom out by getting additional perspectives. Who else has a perspective on what happened? This will help in filling in some potential blind spots that you may be missing. This is not an attempt to validate your version of what happened but help to broaden the scope of possibilities of what was going on
  4.  Create a plan to avoid repeating the mistake. Invite accountability Partners to tell them what you need from them how you want them to engage when you want them to engage. This may include your boss, Mentor, colleagues, family members, coach
  5.  Establish a habit of reflective practice. Weekly or monthly, make the time to reflect. The outcome ultimately becomes the personal growth that you desire


When you discover that you have made a mistake, take accountability, engage in a process of debriefing such that you learn and grow. 


You are still a high achiever, so continue to be a strong leader who delivers quality work. Whatever the mistake, it will become a thing of the past and you are equipped to excel and achieve the future you desire. No one is perfect and learning through your experience is preparing you on the road to fulfilling your executive ambitions.


Coach Mo Knows (A tip, a coaching question, a bit of inspiration)


  • Create a Causal factor chart which is a visual and effective way to reengineer how a complex problem developed and discover ways to avoid repeating the same mistakes. 

For B-school graduates, this experience is like engaging in a root cause analysis. 

  • Check out PrinciplesYou, a free assessment to help you understand yourself and others.  

Coaching Question

What mistake have you made that created a beneficial learning opportunity?



It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes. ~ Warren Buffett


Resources referenced:


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