How to Fix Mistakes and Learn from Failures as The Innovative Admin™

May 21, 2020 | Career Development

fix mistakesAdmins are often expected to do their jobs perfectly, and with just cause – a single mistake can be costly to your company, executive, and your career. Yet, The Innovative Admin knows that failure is a necessary and integral part of the innovation process. You don’t create and implement new ideas without things going wrong on that journey.

The problem is we often confuse mistakes with failures when they are not exactly the same thing.

Mistakes are inaccuracies or errors that should have been caught. Typos in a document or misquoting information are mistakes. Mistakes can also be errors in judgment, poor decision making, or misunderstanding a request or assignment. Missing a deadline or sending information to the wrong person fall into the mistake category.

Failure is typically defined as a lack of success or may be related to underperforming. You didn’t accomplish something you set out to do. Seth Godin says a failure is a project that doesn’t work, an initiative that teaches you something. Yet at the same time the outcome of your failure doesn’t move you directly closer to your goal. And it’s only when failures are repeated that they become mistakes.

One of the things that sets The Innovative Admin apart is his or her ability to take the initiative. Taking the initiative can mean a lot of things – from developing your office procedures to creating a better system for project management, or even helping your executive shorten their learning curve on new software or technology. Initiative is about gaining confidence to take charge, develop a plan, and implement your ideas for improving things. And taking the initiative also means some of your plans will succeed and some will fail.

To excel in your career and provide the most value in your admin job, you have to accept that failure and mistakes are inevitable. It’s what you learn from the experience and apply to the next idea you implement that will make you stand out.

So, what do you do when you make a mistake?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes throughout my career, and I’ve learned that the best way to handle them is to admit them quickly. Here’s how I usually approach an error:

  • Look at the mistake and identify the cause.
  • Watch for patterns that increase mistakes – stressful situations, not following a proper process, fatigue, rushing to get it done, etc.
  • Develop new habits or create a better system to support mistake-free work so the mistake doesn’t happen twice.
  • Communicate those changes to those impacted so they know you have a new or better system in place.

You’re human, so you will make mistakes. But when that happens, don’t dwell on it. Figure out what went wrong, learn from it, and move on. 

What about failure? What do you do if you take the initiative on something and it fails?

You try again.

Oftentimes, you have to try a bunch of things before the one thing you’re trying to do works. If you’re looking for a better system for project management, you may have to test several programs before you can determine what will work the best for your team. If you take the initiative to institute a daily meeting with your executive, but you struggle to make them consistent, you may need to keep trying different approaches. When you’re tasked with coordinating a recurring virtual social hour for your team, it may take trial and error to figure out what they enjoy and what works best in the virtual environment before you perfect the formula.

It’s also important to pay attention to how and when you admit to a mistake. For instance:

  • I made a mistake. I’ll improve and do better next time. (Not, I am a failure.)
  • I misunderstood my executive’s request. I’ll ask more clarifying questions next time. (Not, I am a failure.)
  • The implementation of my idea failed on the first attempt, I’ll try again. (Not, I am a failure.)
  • They didn’t like the solution I demonstrated, I’ll keep working on it. (Not, I am a failure.)

Mistakes and failures are commonly used synonymously; let’s change that! You should avoid making mistakes while embracing the innovation mindset, and get comfortable with things failing from time to time. When you continue to adapt your ideas until you find the winning solution, failure can help you propel your career forward. Understanding this distinction will help you evolve and expand your potential as The Innovative Admin. 


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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity, and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures. 

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