Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.

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Embrace the insight

Q: What are the three (or so) biggest mistakes -- professional and personal -- you've made on the road to where you are today? Were you able to overcome them?

My three biggest mistakes -- like many failures -- turned out to be my biggest learning experiences.

First mistake: Talking too much. I was with a mentor visiting a potential client, a CEO of a large company. The meeting went well and the CEO and I seemed to establish a good initial relationship. On the way out, my mentor asked, "So, how do you think it went? I, of course, noted the excellent rapport and pointed out that the client seemed to like my ideas. My mentor said, "Exactly. He not only liked your ideas, but he now has enough information to begin to solve the problem himself. You gave too much away! Next time, ask more questions and set the stage for problem solving--but don't give away the store." With some practice, I learned to lead and guide through questions, not through telling or giving answers away.

Second mistake: Taking it too personally. I was in the position of doing special projects for the CEO of an international company. This often required that I study documents, analyze information, and write reports behind the scenes without anyone but the CEO being privy to my work.

One of my written analyses erroneously got into the hands of one of the subsidiary presidents who had his own political agenda with the CEO. My written report (and, consequently, me) became a pawn in the game playing. I felt betrayed and insulted since I was not asked to be a part of the aftermath, ceremoniously dismissed as a low-level lackey.

I took it very hard. Then I woke up. At the ripe old age of 27, I decided to become "a player." I waited. An opportunity came for me to deal with the upset president on another matter. After dealing with the business at hand, I said, "By the way, I'd like to discuss that incident that happened a few months ago." He looked puzzled and tried to laugh it off. I said, "Well, I was disturbed by the entire situation and would like to make a deal. Next time the CEO asks me to work on a project that might involve you or what you do, I promise to let you know about it -- no matter how trivial. I will do this as long as you promise me that if you ever have a problem with anything I do, you will come to me first before dealing with it." He was my best friend for the rest of my tenure there.

Third mistake: Thinking that doing a good job is enough to get ahead. I naively approached my boss early in my career and wanted to know why I didn't a certain promotion that had been posted. It was given to someone who I believed was not as skilled as I was. He sat back and said, "Doing your job well gets you in the game. To get ahead, you need to develop good relationships above and below you--always have someone pushing you up and someone reaching out to grab you." From then on I learned how to network, navigate the system, and build strong people skills.

Ultimate learning: Analyze all of your mistakes. Talk them through. Embrace the insight and then put it to action.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  July 29, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and failure Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Great tips! That took some guts to speak frankly to the subsidiary president. I'm sure he respected you for it and you must have handled it professionally because you became friends.

Posted by: elnicho | August 2, 2010 5:07 PM
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