Sharpen Your Selective Memory (When It Comes to Failure)

Usually, forgetting where we put our keys or the name of an old acquaintance would be considered a negative characteristic – a reminder of our “age” or a sign of mental fogginess.

But, in the case of leadership, having a short-term memory can be an asset.

I heard a legendary professional football player say once in an interview that the best athletes have to have a very short memory.

How? Look at it this way: The quarterback throws a costly interception in the big game. The golfer’s swing is off during the final round of a major tournament. Does the quarterback wallow in his mistake? Does the golfer get so clouded by the issue that his performance is virtually paralyzed?

No. Professionals move on. They shake it off and get back in the game.

As leaders, we must realize mistakes are bound to happen, and we cannot allow those mistakes to define us. I, for one, have shared a few of my Big Hairy Audacious Goof-ups in “rookie mistakes” posts. But those three posts represent just a fraction of the gaffes I’ve made during my career.

Did I let those errors influence my conduct? No. If I had allowed those failures define my actions, I would have constantly second-guessed myself. A second-guesser doesn’t even have control over herself and her own destiny, so how can she lead a team?

We should be defined, rather, by how we rebound from the mistake – not by the mistake itself. There is a lot of character and courage that comes with a successful recovery.

So, instead of dwelling on a mistake, say, “What mistake?” In fact, with the exception of leveraging the error to learn from it, there is no reason to sit and stew over it.

Since we are human, and we are by no means perfect, there is ample opportunity to practice the mental discipline that comes with dusting ourselves off and getting back into the game to achieve what may be the performance of a lifetime.


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