How leaders embrace mistakes and create a culture of growth

Herbie Hancock, is an iconic figure in the world of jazz, renowned for his talent as a pianist, composer, and bandleader. He tells a story about playing a live performance with legendary trumpet virtuoso Miles Davis. Right in the middle of Miles’ amazing solo, Herbie played the wrong chord. It sounded like a big mistake to him. But Miles Davis paused and played some notes that made the chord right. Herbie said, ‘What I realized now is that Miles didn’t hear it as a mistake. He felt it was his responsibility to find something that fit.’ The moment taught Herbie a profound lesson: embrace mistakes as opportunities for growth.

In every aspect of life, mistakes are inevitable. Business leaders encounter mistakes if they are up to something big. In The Fearless Organisation, Amy C. Edmondson describes the concept of psychological safety as ‘a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves. More specifically, when people have psychological safety at work, they feel comfortable sharing concerns and mistakes without fear of embarrassment or retribution.’

Edmondson’s research reinforces how important it is to create a culture where individuals feel empowered to take risks. Leaders who prioritise psychological safety cultivate teams that are more resilient, innovative, and adaptable. Studies show that organisations with high psychological safety are more likely to admit and learn from mistakes, leading to greater innovation and performance. Embracing mistakes fosters empathy and understanding, creating a culture of collaboration and trust.

How we respond to mistakes defines our character and helps shape our future. Leaders who embrace mistakes foster a culture of learning and growth, where individuals feel empowered to take risks and innovate.

Herbie Hancock said what he learned from that situation with Miles was, ‘Take whatever situation you have, and make something constructive happen with it.’

How do you balance accountability for mistakes while also encouraging a culture of growth and learning?

Best regards, Brian