We all make mistakes. Some are small, some are bigger and some impact other people’s lives. As a leader you will make your share of mistakes and it is completely fine as long as you learn from them. The thing that makes it more difficult for you is that your mistakes tend to be more visible and have bigger impacts. If you are a leader who is being followed or if you are an influencer impacting what people think and how things get done then you need to proactively own your own mistakes and deal with them immediately.
The first and the trickiest step is to recognize and admit that there was a mistake done or even better that there is a mistake in works. To be able to do that you just need to listen and frequently review what you are doing. Listening to the feedback also means creating environment where the feedback you are getting is really honest. If you are surrounded by yes-men then no amount of feedback from them helps as they are just saying what they believe you want to hear and not what they really think. For tips on creating a good open environment and getting feedback check these posts How Can You Motivate Others? You Can’t! and Now, How May I Help You?.
The most difficult step is to apologize. Apologize to yourself, to your colleague or to your team. Apologize to whoever was directly impacted and also to those who were impacted indirectly, saw the mistake being made or the consequences. Why it is important to apologize to all of them?
The ones who suffered because of the mistake are obvious. You need to admit to them that mistake was made, injustice happened and apologize that it happened. And really apologize. Statements like “it was unfortunate that you were not invited to the party but you know my boss wanted it and I don’t think he realized that you should be there” are not really an apology. The real apology starts with “I”, is short and to the point and shouldn’t involve blaming anyone else “I’m sorry for not inviting you to the party yesterday. I apologize for forgetting and I have taken steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
The most obvious step is to fix the actual mistake. At least as much as it is possible. It doesn’t make too much sense to try to overanalyze or figuring out who to blame. The important part is to act and act fast. Don’t try to make promises, don’t try to talk the others into feeling happy, and just show them by doing. Quick action is what will make you believable and will help the others to accept that you really mean fixing the issue. You don’t need to immediately fix everything but you need to make the right first step and show that you have a realistic plan for the rest.
The last and not so obvious step is to prevent similar type of mistakes occurring again in the future. That is not for the benefit of others as much as for benefit of yourself. You want to make sure that you don’t need to firefight the same issue or mistake again. It is ok to make a mistake once but you shouldn’t keep making the same mistake again and again. When taking the steps to prevent the same issue from happening again and not just that. Try to cover a similar type of situations. Let’s say that the issue was a miscommunication between two departments working on a project you are leading. Obviously you will set up a measures to make sure this problem doesn’t appear on the project again. And you always need to think about how to ensure this doesn’t happen on other projects in the future and that other departments don’t run into the same issue.
Twitter type summary: “Did you make a mistake? Admit it, apologize for it, fix it and prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future.”
How do you deal with mistakes you made? How do you ensure you don’t make the same mistake twice?