• Carol Delisi

Learning the hard way

Have you ever found yourself saying - or maybe just thinking -"Well, when I started my job..."

  • "I just had to figure it out."

  • "I didn't have any special training."

  • "I learned the hard way!"

We're not whining when we say these things, instead we treat them as a badge of honor, because we made it through without any special help. And sometimes that's okay, but in our businesses, do we really want employees learning the hard way? When employees have to learn the hard way, it's easy for them to blame others for mistakes, feel sorry for themselves and to not learn anything at all.


Learning the hard way can also be painful and costly.


I learned the hard way a couple weeks ago riding a young horse I just brought back from a trainer. Even though I thought I was super cautious and careful, I made some incorrect assumptions that impacted her training and my physical health. I can tell you that my fall was painful and the possible set back in her training was costly in time and money. I could have blamed the horse. I could have blamed the trainer. But, after feeling sorry for myself, I realized that if this event was going to be of any use to me, I needed to learn from it. I needed to take responsibility and figure out what to do differently, so that my time and money was not wasted.


So rather than having employees learn the hard way, let's instead make it easier for them to learn from their mistakes, when it is safe and feasible for them to do so. Let's set them up for success, rather than allowing them to struggle through it like we may have early in our careers. If we let them know that when they make a mistake, or something doesn't work right, they should acknowledge it, find out what they need to know and then decide how they will do it differently next time, then we make learning easier by giving them the process.


Then "learning the hard way" becomes learning by experience, which is motivating, thoughtful and effective in helping a person develop solid skills. We can be proud of our own learning the hard way, but let's save money, time and maybe pain in our businesses, by making learning easier for our employees and thoughtfully supporting their learning from experience.


A few great resources for supporting learning from our experiences:

Change your Questions, Change your Life by Marilee Adams

Mindset, the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

The Book of Beautiful Questions by Warren Berger


May all your mistakes be opportunities for growth.