Making mistakes as a leader comes with the territory. A leader's guide to dealing with mistakes is your free resource to better handle those occasional leadership mistakes.
A FREE LEADER’S GUIDE TO DEALING WITH MISTAKES
Making mistakes as a leader comes with the territory. As much as we would like to be right all the time, that’s just not possible. There’s simply too much volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity in business to always make the right call.
It’s my hope that this leader’s guide to dealing with mistakes helps you to build a system for recovering from that occasional leadership mistakes.
Let’s get into it.
LEADERS MAKE MISTAKES. IT’S A PART OF THE JOB.
Good leaders move on from their mistakes. Great leaders learn from them.
What’s more important than trying to avoid making mistakes in the first place is to know how to recover from making them as a leader. Repeating the same mistakes as a leader quickly turns into a performance problem which puts the entire company in jeopardy.
We will discuss five easy steps for making your mistakes productive and turning them into a leadership lesson. Many leaders make this process a part of the company environment so that employees and management will develop the confidence to fail properly as well.
The most important thing is making sure you learn from your mistake so you can get better at making decisions in the future! So, in this article, I cover valuable resources that should help you to create a system for gathering feedback which will allow you to fix how you view mistakes inside your organization.
IDENTIFY THE MISTAKE
One of the first things you have to do when trying to recover from making a mistake as an executive is to identify what went wrong.
STEP ONE: IDENTIFY IT
Identifying it and naming it makes it easier to own it and admit that it happened. Owning up to it is leadership and great leaders know this is a part of building success.
STEP TWO: MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND IT
Next, make sure that you fully understand the magnitude and scope of making a mistake. Not only do this for your own sake but also for your team’s. It will help them to better provide support as we move forward through the recovery process together.
ANALYZE WHAT WENT WRONG AND WHY
After you recognize and accept responsibility, it’s time to analyze what you believe went wrong and possibly why it happened. Look hard for the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the situation.
Everyone within your business from your C-Suite down to your management team, and then finally the employees are counting on you to know what happened and why. They know that you’re going to make mistakes, but they also know that your leadership role requires you to learn from those mistakes.
Exploring why it went wrong is a way to learn about yourself and your decision-making process. It’s also the best way to make sure you don’t repeat this same mistake again in the future.
DETERMINE THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM, AS WELL AS HOW TO PREVENT IT IN THE FUTURE
A decision-making system is only as good as the leader building it.
Once you have effectively analyzed what didn’t work and why your next step is to determine what the root cause of the mistake was so that you can prevent it from happening again.
For example, was the root cause a people problem? Did an employee or manager take directions incorrectly which happens from time to time? If it is a people-related issue within your organization, is it a skills or ability concern that can be improved with the successful completion of core training?
Perhaps it was a management oversight issue and the focus should be placed on holding a person or team accountable for something they missed.
Determining the root cause is akin to a doctor treating the source of the problem and not just prescribing something to make the symptoms better.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS
All mistakes inside of an organization are ultimately going to be the responsibility of the leaders at the top, and chances are that’s you.
It happens all the time in the professional sports world. The team disappoints so the head coach is fired. Not the players who were tasked with executing the game plan, but the head coach. And with the head coach, most of the time all the assistant coaches must go too because the new guy/girl will want to bring in their own trusted team of coaches.
Leadership (you) must take responsibility. Especially if you, the business leader were directly involved. Admit to the mistake and move from a blaming mindset to a solutions-based focus to get the problem resolved.
Besides, admitting to your mistake is going to feel really healthy and it will make for a shining example for all of your employees to follow. Setting a leadership example is the key here. You’re the adult at the top of the org chart. Act as you belong there.
As you take responsibility for the mistake, ask a lot of questions.
For example, what resources will you need in order to back your business out of this mess and get on with your strategic objectives? Make a list of resources needed to adequately get the mistake fixed.
If unraveling the mistake is going to take more time and skills than you have, assemble a temporary executive team to help you create a fix.
IF SOMEONE ELSE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR CAUSING YOUR ERROR, TRY TO WORK WITH THEM SO THEY CAN AVOID MAKING SIMILAR MISTAKES AGAIN
This is leadership performance 101. Most managers and employees that I’ve coached respond so much better to skills training and healthy performance feedback than they do to negative finger-pointing from a manager that bases the relationship on fear. No one that I’ve ever coached enjoys being micromanaged.
IF YOU’RE NOT SURE WHO’S AT FAULT, ASK YOURSELF “WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?”
Sometimes the feedback you get from people close to the mistake won’t be able to pinpoint exactly what went wrong or where the miscalculation took place. You may not be able to pinpoint the exact cause of the mistake every time.
If this is the case, good leaders look internally and ask themselves what they could have done differently. Many leaders make this a key part of their leadership style, so they constantly grow and learn from every situation.
Subscribe to this idea of always looking internally and asking how or what you could have done a better job at and your business will always be better for it.
FOLLOW-UP WITH ANY NECESSARY PARTIES INVOLVED (E.G., CUSTOMERS)
This might seem obvious but it is so often overlooked.
When leaders make mistakes they typically impact some or all of the people inside of the business. But leading is thinking bigger and taking the scope of the situation to heart and realizing that the negative fallout might impact people outside of the organization as well as the employee side.
Your trusted vendors and suppliers may be worse off because of the mistake. Customers interested in your products and services come to mind here as well. If the scope of the mishap is large enough, the ripple effect will eventually reach your vendors, suppliers, and customers.
Managing damage control might extend out past your office, a single department or division, and beyond the walls of your company. That ripple effect might lead all the way to the store shelves which will keep you from delivering an unforgettable customer experience.
Quickly apologize for what happened and for any inconvenience caused by your error or omission. Then move right into describing the solution that your teams have come up with to make it right or so it doesn’t get any worse.
And finally, explain how your fix will prevent this from ever happening again.
People want to know that there is a plan in place to make things better and the leader has assembled a team who is qualified and motivated to make a difference.
Leaders lead. Not out of fear, but out of growth.
A lot of that is related to implementing strategic objectives, managing change, and pivoting on a dime when external factors mess with your perfectly blueprinted plans.
You can’t and won’t always make the right call, and your people know this already. What they will be especially tuned into will be how you behave afterward.
What actions will you take related to fixing the mistake and how much responsibility will you place on your own shoulders?
Will you ask for feedback from people or will you assume that you have all the answers and go it alone?
The key to rebounding is to develop a solutions-based mindset and build a system for unwinding your mistakes as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
I hope this article has helped to give you some ideas on how you, the leader, and your entire team can rebound from a mistake, move past it, and continue to build success.