How to Turn a Mistake into a Success

“What was I thinking?” I thought immediately after letting down a friend and mentor. If only I could rewrite that email. Many of us feel this way after failure. We beat ourselves up. We get frustrated with someone else. We let our failure ruin our day.


A few days ago, I refused to let this happen to me. I made the decision to view my failure as an opportunity. Everything in me wanted to try to “fix it” or somehow apologize more to “win back” their approval. I knew this would be a bad decision. I needed to admit defeat and turn it into a success. Here’s what I did:

1) Define the Mistake

When we make mistakes, emotions can take over. Think rationally and isolate where you slipped up. If you don’t understand the problem you’ll never figure out a solution.

2) Look for Contributing Factors

This is the “Why? and How?” part of the situation. Did you misunderstand what the other person wanted? I my case, I misunderstood the values of the other person. I assumed he valued one thing over another. In other words, what led you to make this mistake?

3) List What You Can Learn From the Situation

The biggest failures are those we don’t learn from. How could you approach a similar situation differently next time? In my case, rather than assuming my colleague’s values I would present various options to him with the pros and cons of each. This would allow him to make the decision and own it. Make a list of 5 leadership lessons you learned from the situation.

4) Share Your Mistake With Someone Else

Share your failure or mistake with a friend, mentor, or family member. Ask for their input. Better yet, ask other people involved with your mistake for their input. Rarely do any of us see all angles of a given situation.

Where have you made a mistake lately? What did you learn from it? Share your experience or what you learned from your mistakes in the comment field below.