Everyone makes mistakes. But when you’re in a leadership role, the stakes are higher. Your missteps resonate across teams, and in some cases, entire organizations. Acknowledging mistakes is crucial to recovering from them—if you do it right.
Once the shock subsides in the wake of a screw up, instincts kick in. You might want to pretend it never happened and hope no one notices, or blame someone, or make up a fancy explanation. But these reactions never work after a big fail.
These four steps can help you bounce back from mistakes to rebuild confidence, both among your colleagues and in yourself.
- Say it – A mistake happened. Don’t leave your people in the dark. Apologize and explain your reasoning, however misguided it was. Doing so will help stop chatter at the watercooler and reduce anxiety.
- Own it – Acknowledge the decision was wrong and hold yourself accountable. When Apple faced serious glitches with its Apple Maps in 2012, CEO Tim Cook took responsibility. “We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers,” he announced, “and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”
- Fix it – Staunch the bleeding. It’s not going to get better if you wait to see what happens. But at the same time, don’t be rash, either. Barreling ahead just to act may lead you from one bad decision to another.
- Learn from it and move on – Figure out how the mistake happened. Was it an aberration or the result of a larger, systematic issue? Keep track of what you learn. Explain to your team that you’re moving forward with what you’ve discovered. Again, be transparent. Moving on from the mistake, informed by its origins, will create positive momentum. Paralysis kills innovation. And it can hamper you as an effective leader.
Today, “failure” is touted as a necessary step toward progress. Handling it with openness, humility, and energy can turn bad decisions into opportunities. Leaders can serve as models for their employees who may find themselves in the same position. Keep talking through the process with your teams. This is a teachable moment.
Take what you’ve learned and channel it into doing better. With risk comes reward, so advance undaunted. Onward!