Mistakes are the Best Teachers

by Joe Fuld, an EO DC member and president of The Campaign Workshop

On my way to work the other day, I saw this restaurant sign and found myself wondering: Have I actually learned from my mistakes this year? I often make errors in my business— some big, some small. But I try and look at every mistake as both the awakening of a problem that I never knew existed and the beginning of solving that problem. Did I always look at it that way? Hardly.

I work in a high-pressure business. I started a political consulting and advertising firm six years ago after a lengthy career as a campaign manager, employee and partner at other firms. Much of my job involved starting and closing “small businesses” that ran for sixth-month periods. But political campaigns are not, historically, the best training grounds of corporate culture and long-term growth, given that they are for such short periods of time.

When I started my own business, I discovered that success is achieved when you accept that you are going to make mistakes, and then embrace them as opportunities to learn and grow. Here is how I’ve learned to do just that:

Forget Your Ego
I still find it hard to listen to other people’s opinions. My goal is often just to plow head and get things done, but that isn’t always the best course of action. I’ve found that listening to my team and clients is the beginning of my growth as a leader. I work in a creative business, and while I often have a good idea, a better one may come from an employee or client directly. I’ve had to teach myself to take emotion and ego out of the picture, and simply listen for what works best.

Don’t Blame— Learn
When you build a culture free from blame, your teams will be more likely to learn from their mistakes. And if people are free to share their mistakes, others can learn from them, as well. This may seem obvious, but early in my career I would get angry about errors. Now I look at them as opportunities. Sure, we don’t want them to happen. But when they do, it’s a chance for us to fix a broken system or show a client how committed we are to improving, even in the face of failure.

Avoid Inaction through Delegation
We should learn from our mistakes, of course, but many of the ones I’ve made weren’t conscious decisions. Rather, they were due to my inaction as a leader or my inability to delegate responsibility, like removing myself from day-to-day relationships with clients. I have employees who can do a better job than me and provide more attention to detail. Giving the responsibility to others enhances my client’s experiences, while freeing me up to focus on larger issues. 

Share Your Mistakes
When I make a mistake, I try and share it with my staff. One of the best ways to learn as a team is to look at your mistake and find out what you could have done better. I also make it a point to own my errors. It’s never easy to call a client and say you blew it, but you need to. I’ve never lost a client because I admitted a mistake. It has, in most cases, actually made our relationship stronger.

Like all entrepreneurs, I make mistakes. But I’ve learned over the years not to let them paralyze me. I cannot learn by doing nothing. I can only grow from the experiences, and by using those experiences in ways that make me and my business stronger.


Joe Fuld is an EO DC member who also writes about politics, advocacy and engagement strategies on www.thecampaignworkshop.com/blog. Contact Joe at [email protected].

Categories: Best Practices Lessons Learned members


2 Responses to “ Mistakes are the Best Teachers ”

  1. L A Crawley on

    I agree Joe, mistakes teach us alot but they are expensive as well. Small businesses can’t afford two many or they are no more, right? I knew their had to be a better way. Then I found a great book it’s called, “System Busters: How to stop them in your business.”I was excited to learn about the fully integrated management and organizational systems(ERP) for any small company. Just wanted to pass on my great find. It’s approach is essential to keep up in our rapid changing business world. Thanks for the great article.


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