We all make mistakes. If we don’t, we’re not taking enough risks. Executives with big responsibility sometimes make big mistakes. It comes with the territory. But I have often watched leaders struggle to recover from a mistake made that probably didn’t have to be as personally or professionally damaging to them as it was. They simply didn’t respond well enough and it cost them more than it should have. Below are five steps to move past and learn from leadership mistakes.
Communicate quickly – You don’t have to tell the world, but those who need to know should hear it from you and not from anyone else. Let the offended parties know and the people who will have to answer for the mistake. This can’t be done too soon. Surprises like this never turn out well, but with advance knowledge many times further damage can be averted.
Own it – Don’t make excuses. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t blame others. Don’t say, “I’m sorry”, but then try to wrap the other person into your story. Ask forgiveness if necessary, but own it now. You made a mistake. Be a leader. Own the mistake and be willing to accept the consequences. You’ll be far more respected and stand a better chance of bridging support in the recovery process.
Stop the loss – Do whatever you can to stop further damaging from occurring. If there are financial issues involved, try to recover as much as you can. If there is collateral damage with relationships, apologize quickly and try to restore trust. I have always found a humble, but confident response is usually best in these situations.
Figure out what’s next – Help the team recover. Find solutions. Don’t leave the clean up to anyone else. As you lead into the mistake — or even better — lead through the recovery. Help bring people together, seek wisdom, and help steer energy back to a more positive position.
Learn from it – The best thing you can do is to grow from mistakes — all of them. They can shape us as people and leaders — either positively or negatively. The good news is that we get to decide which one. In the process of recovery, sometimes keeping a journal is helpful. Start with the question, “What can I learn from this that will help me make better decisions in the future?”
Have you made leadership mistakes in the past? If, so did you follow the same steps above, or did you use a different process?