Mistakes happen. There isn’t anyone who hasn’t made a mistake at some point in their life. We will look back sometimes and realize a decision we made was a mistake, but those aren’t the ones I want to talk about. Hindsight provides a way for us to re-evaluate our decision, but it is with facts we likely didn’t have at the time the decision was made. What I want to focus on is the mistakes we make whether as a result of sloppiness, not caring enough, or focusing on checking something off our list without considering the impact.
Does the mistake matter? Well, duh, of course it does. How much it matters depends on the impact of the mistake, not the mistake itself. Sending incorrect information to a client has a big impact. Spelling someone’s name incorrectly in an email may have a smaller impact. And buying red instead of manila file folders probably isn’t that big a deal. As you go higher up in rank within a company the more impact your mistakes will have to you personally and the organization.
Yet, I am here to say that the problem is not the mistake itself; it is how you deal with the situation. One of my clients has a couple of people in leadership who refuse to accept any accountability for their mistakes. It’s always someone else’s fault, or they weren’t aware of the policy, or, worse yet, the policy is wrong or the direction their boss told them to go is incorrect so they did what they want. What frustrates the senior leadership is not the mistake itself, but the consequences of the mistake and the total lack of recognition about these consequences and lack of willingness to take part in the solution. Frankly, sometimes a simple apology and what can I do to help is enough. Those around you want to know that you recognize your part in the problem and a willingness to be part of the solution.
Can you recover from mistakes? Of course you can. It’s about stepping in front of the problem and owning it. Sometimes it isn’t necessarily your direct fault and blaming someone else does not serve you. Acknowledging the circumstances and what the impact was along with a willingness to help change the future is what matters. None of us is infallible and those who succeed in spite of their mistakes are the people who come right out and own it, declare it, and express a willingness to do something about it.
A key component of recovering from blunders is stopping to recognize they occurred. If you send an email to clients and you are inundated with calls or emails with tons of questions, you missed something when sending the email. Maybe you didn’t tell them it was coming, or warn them about a price increase, or care enough to consider what questions or concerns they might have and address them upfront in the email or in a call before sending the email. The point is you missed something. Responding to their questions doesn’t solve the problem. It answers the questions, but you are now in defense mode. The client is frustrated and you are now in a defensive posture. Not a good place to be. Why does it matter? Maybe this time it doesn’t, or it doesn’t very much. And the client is squirreling away the information that their interactions with you didn’t feel good. You’ve lost some level of trust and it’s difficult to regain that trust. They will begin to look closer at other interactions with a critical eye and every action will be seen as positive or negative. I promise you they keep score. Realizing that over time these little actions erode trust eventually means you make yourself vulnerable to competition. This is where you have the ability to make an enormous impact.
So, beyond just stepping in front of the situation and taking ownership, stopping long enough to assess what the impact of the mistake is long-term, not just managing through it today, is where you can truly recover from the mistake. This is the place where you have the power to change the course going forward. This is where you can demonstrate true leadership and value to your company. Too few of us look at it this way. We focus on solving the situation immediately in front of us and then move to the next thing. We aren’t looking for patterns or impact or how what we do will sway our clients or others around us in the future. We are focused on today only.
Mistakes happen and will always happen. If you want to recover from them you first have to step in front of them and accept ownership and accountability for the mistake and the solution. You also have to be willing to evaluate and assess how this situation impacts the company. I promise you that what affects the company will affect you. Without taking a step back and focusing on how to influence the future, you will simply recreate the same problems again and again. Whether you realize it or not, this will come back to bite you. Slow down, pay attention, and focus on impact rather than the mistake itself.
© 2017 Incedo Group, LLC
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