Successful Women Make All the RIGHT Mistakes

The first time I heard my manager say it, I did a double take. I was convinced that I’d misheard him say:

“You are making all the right mistakes.” 


“What?” I responded. “What do you mean?!”

He went on to explain that although the assignment I had just completed contained some errors, he knew that I had challenged myself, that I had thought about the desired outcome of the task and the steps in between. He noted that I had asked good questions along the way, that I had checked my work and checked in with others but that there were still some things that I didn’t know, and based on my experience some things that I could not have known. So, he was very comfortable that everything had not gone perfectly. He was very complimentary of my “mistakes” and encouraged me to continue working in this manner, pushing the outer edges of what I knew, working toward more challenging goals and not worrying when some aspects of a project or assignment did not go perfectly.

This feedback and encouragement occurred early in my career. The lesson stuck with me from that day forward and became both a key mantra of my own entrepreneurial journey as well as a guiding principle that I share with the women I coach.

I was reminded of this advice again when I read an analysis of the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report, which indicated that in contrast to men, women in younger age groups have a much higher fear of failure and are therefore less likely to seize opportunities and less likely to engage in entrepreneurship. Recalling my former manager and how fortunate I was to begin my career in work environment that encouraged making the right mistakes, I reflected on how we can encourage young women to take more risk both entrepreneurially or in their careers.

Men’s vs. Women’s View of Failure

One way to do so is to learn from the way many men versus women view unsuccessful endeavors. When asked about a failure or lack of achievement of a goal, I often hear male entrepreneurs and corporate men very comfortably say: “Well… that just did not work out quite as well as we had intended.” In contrast, women entrepreneurs and professionals often respond by apologizing for every “mistake” they perceive they made.

Everything is an Opportunity

Another way to reduce the incidence of failure is to view opportunities as just that – opportunities – not guarantees of success. I believe that successful entrepreneurs and executives are successful not because they haven’t failed but because they’ve made lots of the “right mistakes.” The more “mistakes” we make, the more we will most likely learn and the greater the likelihood that we will remember and employ the lessons we’ve learned to our next endeavor.

So, young women, don’t worry – take on that new assignment or act upon your entrepreneurial idea. As you reflect on 2012 and prepare for a brilliant 2013, keep this phrase in mind. As you put yourself out there and continue to work hard, chances are you’ll make all the “right mistakes.” We’re here cheering you on!