How a Conscientious Leader Deals with Mistakes: 10 Valuable Observations

Photo by    Mikhail Vasilyev

Many of the small businesses and entrepreneurs we have certified as Benefit Corporations for Good  have experienced a few bruises and some scars as well.

Yet, they persevere.

It’s hard to launch and grow a business dedicated to the principles of the triple bottom line:  People, Planet, Profit. They intimately know the long hours it takes to pursue their mission of doing good for the commons. They know there are no shortcuts for a quick buck.

It’s what differentiates them from other companies: their perseverance to live a life of authenticity, honesty and integrity.

There are some lessons to be learned from these entrepreneurs who take the step to become Benefit Companies. Most mistakes, even failures, come from these 7 areas as described by nationally known business consultant Jay Willwerth:

1.       Overlooking the importance of a Business Plan

2.       Ignoring Your Market

3.       Discounting Your Desires of Your Target Market

4.       Insufficient Funding

5.       Skimping on Marketing and Advertising

6.       Lacking Flexibility

7.       Ignoring Advice

Conscientious leaders found in Benefit Corporations are susceptible to these same failings but because of their strong commitment to be a cause-driven business, these missteps and even failures are the seeds for a continual path of learning and self- improvement. This is what we love about the leaders we interviewed for our book, “Putting Soul into Business: How the Benefit Corporation is Transforming American Business for Good.” 

It’s not about blame, “woe is me,” or victim mentality. Rather it’s the journey and story of two steps forward and one step backwards. It’s progress and a belief in a better business model. But this path requires risks that may sometimes lead to failures.

We are a small business ourselves and we know first-hand how easy it is to feel discouraged.  We try to remind ourselves that it’s okay to pivot, to shift gears, to “get better” through our mistakes.  Being a Benefit Corporation is not for the meek. It means erroring on the side of good vs being the most profitable.

Speaking of mistakes, we have found that conscientious leaders in Benefit Corporations, often with high EQ (emotional intelligence), recognize that staff sometimes screw up too. But rather than punish them, they understand it is  generally best to allow them to reflect and gain experience –growing personally and professionally through their errors.

Leaders may find it hard to admit mistakes and failures. To quickly say, “I messed up,” “I made the wrong call,” or “I was wrong” is difficult. Yet, showing vulnerability to staff, partners and colleagues, is a lesson in humility. By admitting and sharing failures, we can create a culture of trust – a cornerstone of every conscientious organization -- and a foundational value of Benefit Corporations.

Here are 10 valuable observations we have seen in the conscientious leaders of Benefit Corporations when dealing with mistakes.

1.       They don’t play the victim

2.       They take accountability and ownership of screw-ups

3.       They are willing to apologize

4.       They don’t get defensive

5.       They listen before reacting

6.       They stay calm and respectful

7.       They stay positive and remember the end game

8.       They celebrate little successes

9.       They pause and take a breather during intense times

10.   They embody hope and persevere.


“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” 
- Robert Kennedy


MaryAnne Harmer