It happens to the best of us. Mistakes, errors, mucking it up, screwing the pooch, what have you, are bound to happen to us all. Mistakes are so prevalent in the business world it's probably better to look at it as 'it’s not if it will happen, but when’!
The best of the best out there know and live one thing that many people struggle with…it’s having the ability to admit when you’re wrong or have made a mistake.
People make mistakes. It’s a fact of life. I’ve made plenty of them in my time and gather I’ll make some more before the day is over. It’s what we do when a mistake is made that makes all the difference. I recently learned of a story which had a great impact on me as the person in question was and is undoubtedly a mega-giant to success. Case in point, his children, represent #8, #9, #11 and #12 of the wealthiest people in the world based on the 2015 Billionaires list put out by Forbes. (note - I chose to highlight this individual not because I agree or disagree with his business and their practices but because he overcame a costly mistake and succeeded greatly as a result. This piece is not intended to support or criticize the Walton's or Walmart)
Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, made an error early on that could have cost him his entire career. After being in business for a rough first five years, Sam started to finally see some incredible success for his single location general store located in Newport, Arkansas. His sales quadruped that year. He was a pillar of the community, involved in a variety of social and political groups, giving and putting everything he had into trying to make his business work in the 7,000 person community of Newport. What he didn’t realize initially but knew all too well when the time came was that his store, his only store, was not available for renewal as the lease expired. The owner was handing the store over to his son and Walton was on the short end of the stick.
In this day and age we might not think that’s a big deal as you can always go find another place to set up shop, however back in the late 40’s when Walton came face to face with this mistake he had made, he said it was one of the worst mistakes he’d made in business. Not only could he not renew the lease on the only store he had, but there were no other options in town for him to choose from. His entire business revolved around that town and now he was forced to seek a new birth elsewhere.
What happened from there? Walton took ownership of the situation without allowing his blunder to spoil what would eventually become one of the largest retailer chains, if not the largest, in the world. So Walton drove across Arkansas and found a new store, bought it outright this time and uprooted his entire family for the big move. The rest of the story results in the Walton’s basically turning into a real life Scrooge McDucks basically swimming in wealth; I’m sure as a result of some very hard work along the way.
Remarkable as that story may be given what we all know of Wal-Mart in current day, Walton’s decisions and actions in the moment are what truly separate him and other ‘greats’ from the rest of the pack. He admitted his mistake without placing blame on others, owned it, learned from it and moved on without allowing the mistake to crush his business and dreams.
When we face our mistakes head on we show courage and an ability to be trusted. Since no one is perfect, those who can admit their mistakes openly seem to be trusted more than those that project themselves to be incapable of making errors. When we admit our mistakes we are taking ownership of the situation; once ownership is established the best of the best use those mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve from moving forward.
Mistakes also have a nasty ability at times to knock us off our pedestal, dampening our confidence. When we admit to our shortcomings what often happens is those around us respond with support which helps level set our mindset back to the passion fueled great people we are.
Next time you find yourself in a situation where a mistake is made and you might be the culprit, take a leap of faith and ‘lean in’ as Sheryl Sandburg says. What happens next may surprise you in a great way.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.