Mistakes for the right reasons

missed_arrows_200To err is human. We’re all familiar with the observation that Alexander Pope made in his writings on criticism.

So why do we get all bent out of shape when things go wrong?

With adults it’s one thing – by now, you think, they should know better – but especially when our Scouts mess something up, we tend to get upset and start looking for blame and fixes.

It’s true that dangerous mistakes need to be corrected immediately. Things like fire (or food) in a tent, or unsafe use of edge tools, or any sort of altercation.

But when Scouts fail in other ways – like burning the French toast or lashing the rainfly incorrectly – we need to remember the rest of Pope’s quote: to forgive divine.

Whether we like it or not, Scouting is all about the freedom to make mistakes. We’d like to see not too many mistakes, of course, but those mistakes that do happen are usually of a nature that Scouts can learn from. Boys of Scouting age don’t know it all, like you do (or think you do). By trying things and failing, they’ll learn how to do better next time. And it’s our job to help them see what did go wrong, and to learn what to do the next time in order to try to keep that mistake from happening.

Leadership at all levels must benefit from mistakes made in order to move forward, for without mistakes there can be no improvement, and stagnation can result. A mistake-free leader is one who does not advance the performance and experience of himself and those around him.

How do we tolerate mistakes? First, by realizing the opportunity to use a mistake as a vehicle for growth. We do this through reflection. Talk about the experience and try to draw out what might have gone wrong. Get agreement that what happened was less than optimal and desirable, and help the other person discover what can be done next time (or what should have been done this time) in order to achieve a better outcome.

Admitting a mistake is also a sign of character – and, of course, our mission includes character development. Leadership consultant Art Petty writes that the absence of mistakes, or the unwillingness to admit mistakes, is a character flaw that can’t be tolerated in an environment where character is key. He suggests that mistakes made are like an admission ticket allowing us to keep moving forward.

Of course, making the same mistakes over and over isn’t a good thing. It’s hoped that we’ll learn from them, not simply repeat them without consequences.

The same applies both to youth and adults. Be kind and helpful when dealing with mistakes, help others find the right way, and stay positive. You’ll all be rewarded with continuous improvement in performance and everyone benefits.

Image: Stuart Miles /freedigitalphotos.net


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