Mistakes and Trust

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Mistakes go hand-in-hand with trust.

There is no such thing as an error-free human being. Mistakes are an inherent part of the change process; and we all make them. We make mistakes in our personal lives. We make mistakes as partners, spouses, and parents. We make mistakes at work as well.

Sometimes our mistakes are small ones. Sometimes they are quite large. I was recently talking with someone who told me that after she received her law degree and was admitted to the bar she “practiced law for three minutes.” The adversarial environment was not right for her. Major companies launch new brands, or new strategies, that fail. (For those of you who can remember 1985, think “New Coke.”)


Many years ago I unexpectedly ended up having lunch with Curt Carlson. Curt was, among other things, the founder of Ask Mr. Foster Travel and Radisson Hotels. His was a multi-billion dollar privately held empire. At the time, I was heading a team that was tasked with selecting a travel agency for an organization with a multi-million dollar travel budget, and Ask Mr. Foster was one of our final two candidates. While there are many stories (and lessons) that I can share from that experience, one stands out here. After reviewing the terms of the service package his regional director had offered us, Curt spent the rest of the lunch telling us stories. The stories he told were stories about his mistakes, the businesses he tried to launch (or launched) that were total failures. He told us about his mistakes, the lessons they taught him, and how he then applied those lessons to achieve success. Many things contributed to Curt Carlson’s tremendous success. One of the key contributors was owning and learning from his mistakes.


If we fail to own our mistakes, whether personal or professional, we don’t learn from them. We can’t examine them with the help of others to determine where we went wrong, what we might do differently the next time. If we don’t own our mistakes and don’t learn from them, it is likely we will repeat them.


So where does trust come in? It’s quite simple. People know that people are not infallible. If every mistake is someone else’s fault, I will quickly learn to not trust you. If mistakes are “buried” and not talked about, I will quickly learn to not trust you.

Trust is earned not by infallibility, but by honesty, by integrity. Trust is earned, at least in part, by owning our mistakes.


What is your experience with mistakes and trust? Comment below.

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