This post is written for any executive leader or entrepreneur who may have encountered a difficult management challenge in the past. If your first inclination is to say, “I’ve never had a problem,” then my advice is to say, “Wait. It will surely come.”
In our years of business coaching, VIM Executive Coaching has truly learned that virtually every executive or entrepreneur has encountered incidents in their past that are indeed painful.
In most cases, the memories of those events – whatever they may entail, bring up a certain amount of embarrassment, regret, discomfort or pain. It is understandable. Until AI takes over every leadership function imaginable, it is a certainty that we humans make mistakes and that we regret them. We would go even further and say that sometimes those “events” have led to counseling’s, “mutual separations,” terminations and even a loss of self-esteem. We have also known leaders who have made mistakes they feel are so egregious that they never assumed a management position again.
The carpet is that object, occasionally literally, but mostly figuratively where we like to sweep things. Usually those things represent painful events. Those painful events might represent anything from a series of poor decisions all the way to harassment, inappropriate “jokes,” and even bordering on the unethical and illegal.
We must tread lightly here.
There are serial offenders, to be sure, for example a sales executive who repeatedly authorized gifts to customers or prospects, or perhaps someone who continuously used inappropriate and off-color humor. They deserve a more severe punishment or censure.
However, for the most part many who are terminated or lose reputation or were forced out or demoted, made an unwise decision and their choice led to a painful consequence. They were sorry, they realized what they had done wrong and wanted to make things right.
When they joined a new company or even chose a lesser position within the same organization, there was always the lingering fear of getting found out or making yet another mistake.
While no one relishes making a blunder, it is what makes most of us human. We are certainly not condoning poor behavior but for most mistakes, second chances should be in order providing we can improve and be better.
While one piece of advice cannot always apply to every situation (in fact, it should not), what also needs to be said is not to fear past mistakes but to reflect on them and use them to get better.
The word “reflect” was chosen with intention. It is easy to initially hide a mistake and then when the mistake is identified, to say something like: “That was just in the past.” Sometimes others will respect that and let it go, other times they may want to hear more. To come out with stock phrases or to try to outrun the past never really works.
Far better to face what happened and to really feel that what happened was wrong. Far better to accept what happened, despite the pain or embarrassment it causes, than to sweep it under the rug.
Through techniques such as leadership coaching and mindfulness meditation, we can give ourselves the space to examine ourselves and our behaviors and become more authentic as leaders. Through being more authentic we can better understand and accept ourselves.
We can learn a great deal from the past, but we need not be afraid of it. Who we are now, is not who we were then. And remember, the scars we carry from past mistakes make us stronger, wiser and more compassionate in the future.
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