Teachable Moments

“There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life.”
Thomas Henry Huxley

“The best lessons a man ever learns are from his mistakes”
Henry Ward Beecher

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”
Albert Einstein


We’ve all made mistakes.  While unpleasant, and at times having consequences, we can learn from making them.  It’s some of the most valuable information that contributes to our life experience.  If we adopt this viewpoint with others when they make errors we can often seize the opportunity to create teachable moments.   To be successful in helping others to learn from their mistakes leaders need to be able to accept that everyone is human and that errors will occur.  A mistake is evidence that someone made an attempt.  They may have even tried something new or different.

Hammer or Magnifying Glass

When you approach someone who has made a mistake, what tool from your leadership toolbox do you reach for, the hammer or the magnifying glass?  If you yell and get upset, threaten discipline or termination then you’ve grabbed the hammer.  If you sit down with the individual and examine the scenario closely, helping them to learn how to avoid the same error next time, then you’ve reached for the magnifying glass.

Helping folks to closely examine their mistakes helps them to learn what works and what doesn’t.  It also allows them to see that mistakes are OK if they, in fact, learn from them.  If you leave your people with the impression that mistakes are bad and will be punished, you can squelch their willingness to take initiative and try new ways to do things.  You may also teach them to hide future mistakes.


What do penicillin, Post-It Notes and chocolate chip cookies all have in common?  Each came about as a result of someone’s mistake.  Imagine if those mistakes hadn’t occurred.  Imagine if the discoverers of those three items had been deterred by someone they reported to because of a reprimand they received as a result of a previous mistake.  The world would not have the benefit of those discoveries and many more.

The Moral to This Story…

By recognizing that errors are inevitable but teachable moments are created, as a leader, you can use those opportunities to encourage your employees in their professional growth and foster their ability to take calculated risks and possibly achieve great things.  You can help them to have the courage to think outside the box and view mistakes as examples of what doesn’t work as they search for what does.  You might even cause them to discover or create something unexpected.

One last thought.  Consider how you would feel if you were the person responsible for causing chocolate chip cookies to NOT be discovered.  Now there’s some food for thought.

Here to serve,

John Duba

Next month:  Magic Markers

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1 Response to Teachable Moments

  1. This is a great reminder to me as a parent too-to remember to use the magnifying glass and not the hammer.


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