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What can you learn from your leadership mishaps?

Mandy Foley-Quin is CEO of Stedmans Hospitality and the 2009 Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year.  Foley-Quin was the guest speaker at today’s CEW luncheon hosted by Westpac Women’s Markets in celebration of the Veuve awards.  She shared her story of beginning Stedmans from scratch 23 years ago as a single mum responsible for her six-month-old daughter and of growing the company into a major supplier of trained hospitality staff, employing 1500 staff at major events including the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympic Games.

Along with the other women on my table, I was impressed with Foley-Quin’s stories of success.  And how could you not be?  She shared with us the successes she’s enjoyed and challenges she’s overcome since she arrived in Australia in 1983 with nothing but $600 and a suitcase.  And – perhaps more importantly – she also referred to the mistakes along the way that have shaped the woman she is and the businesses she has built. These included expanding beyond the comfort levels of business partners who fell by the wayside, and of commencing and then scrapping new business arms that all seemed like a good idea at the time…  More than once she came close to losing the lot, and she’s not too proud to say so.

This willingness to speak with humility about the downs as well as the ups is prevalent in so many women leaders I have the pleasure of meeting.  It’s an acknowledgement of the need to take risks, to make decisions quickly and to get on and give things a go without fear of failure.  Sharing the mistakes and the lessons learned is an important ritual: it shows other women that even if the worst happens, you can push on and still succeed.

This is a clear distinction between many of the female and male leaders I’ve worked with.  I believe that women leaders are more likely to acknowledge that the road won’t always be clear ahead, but the obstacles can make the journey all the more memorable and interesting too.  And make you a better leader for learning to push on and clear the way for those who follow.

Sharing the obstacles and even the stuff-ups is a fantastic way for all of us to learn some of the best leadership lessons we’ll ever know.  So what can you learn from your own leadership mishaps?

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