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Don’t Fuss Over Spilled Milk – Powerful Lessons in Leadership

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Don’t Fuss Over Spilled Milk – Leadership Lesson

Stories can contain powerful lessons in leadership.

One important leadership skill is the ability to effectively teach, paired with a generous amount of patience. I love the following story and the powerful leadership lessons it contains for all of us.

A famous research scientist was once interviewed by a newspaper reporter. He was asked why he thought he was able to be so much more creative than the average person, and what really set him apart from others.

He responded by saying that in his opinion it came from an experience he had with his mother when he was two years old.

He had been trying to remove a bottle of milk from the refrigerator when he lost his grip of the slippery bottle and it fell and spilled all over the kitchen floor creating a messy sea of milk.

When his mother came into the kitchen, she didn’t scold him, give him a lecture or punish him. Instead she said, “Robert, what a great and wonderful mess you have made! I have rarely seen such a huge puddle of milk. Well, the damage has already been done. Would you like to get down and play in the milk for a few minutes before we clean it up?”

So he did. After a few minutes, his mother said, ““You know, Robert, whenever you make a mess like this, eventually you have to clean it up and restore everything to its proper order. So, how would you like to do that? We could use a sponge, a towel, or a mop. Which do you prefer?”

Robert chose the sponge and they cleaned up the mess together.

His mother then said, “You know, what we have here is a failed experiment in how to effectively carry a big milk bottle with two tiny hands. Let’s go out in the back yard and fill the bottle with water and see if you can discover a way to carry it without dropping it.”

By grasping the bottle with both hands at the top near the lid, the little boy learned that he could carry it without dropping it. That was a great lesson!

The renowned scientist said from that point forward he was never afraid to make a mistake. He learned instead that mistakes were opportunities to learn something new, which of course is what scientific experimenting is all about.

What an important lesson for this young boy. And what a great mom who had the patience and the leadership skill to recognize a teaching opportunity.

I don’t know who said it, but I love the following quote:

“Imperfections are important. Just as mistakes are. You only get to be good by learning from mistakes & you get to be real by being imperfect.”

How do you handle mistakes by those you lead? Why fuss over spilled milk when you can teach instead? Agree? Are there other leadership lessons from this story?

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Leave a Comment

  • Dennis Frey October 18, 2012, 4:26 pm

    Mike, this is a great story of leadership through teaching! As a educational leader I’ve practiced this method. It works profoundly!
    Thanks for sharing it,

  • Mike Rogers October 28, 2012, 1:22 pm

    Thanks for commenting Dennis : ) Glad to hear of someone who takes the time to teach like this.
    Please join me and 3,000+ others on Teamwork and Leadership Facebook at
    You can join me on Twitter as well at

  • October 30, 2012, 7:37 am

    Leadership Coaching Information

    Selling suggests that you would like to urge somebodys cash, that is why it overtimes isnt simple. You have to be compelled to recognize the proper skills in mercantilism. An adept employee is aware of the art of mercantilism. Sales repre…

  • Alicia June 13, 2013, 11:10 am

    Do you know who this famous scientist was?

  • Heather Tubbs December 27, 2013, 11:24 pm

    This is also why it is great to give someone who has taken time off to raise kids a chance, stay at home mom’s re-entering the workforce have a whole new perspective and have learned some valuable lessons that will make them valuable in team settings and times when decidions need to be made under stress.


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