Guest Post by Gregory Fisher
If you are in a position of leadership, either in your professional life or in your private life, then you will no doubt be aware that people look up to you and that part of your job is to set a good example that those around you can follow.
As a leader, you will find that your actions set something of a template for everyone following you – and that it will even change the way they feel and act more generally. If a manager comes into work in a bad mood even, it will be enough to sully the mood of the rest of the office. This is even true when you try to suppress that mood. If you panic, the staff panics.
Leading by example is important then and this will also help you to avoid any accusations of hypocrisy. Nobody likes a hypocrite, and if you don’t follow your own rules then that will call into question why anyone should.
And you have a lot of responsibility as a leader too. Chances are that you will make the majority of the ‘big decisions’ in your business, which means that a slip-up on your part can be much more devastating than a slip up farther down the hierarchy.
Mistakes Do Happen
But what you also have to remember is that you’re still human. You may try not to make mistakes, and to set a good example, but from time to time you are going to find that you get it wrong and that you mess up in some way. It might be that you have a day where you’re in a bad mood, it might be that you make a decision that costs a lot of money, or it might be that you reprimand someone… and it turns out it wasn’t their fault.
How Leaders Handle Mistakes
So how do you deal with this situation? How do you minimise the damage you’ve caused? And how do you maintain the respect and the loyalty of your employees/family? Let’s see what the best way to deal with a mistake is.
First and foremost you should own up to your mistake rather than trying to get around it. There’s a lot of pressure to be perfect as a leader as we’ve discussed above, and this can motivate some people to try and deny their mistakes or to gloss over them.
When you do that though, this will usually mean that someone else ends up taking the blame which can lead to a lot of resentment. Furthermore, if you don’t acknowledge your mistake, it will mean you’re less likely to acknowledge mistakes in future. If you get a reputation for refusing to change course when you’ve done something wrong, then nobody will know when they can trust you or when you’ve made a mistake. If you get a reputation for owning up to your mistakes, then at least others will be able to follow you again in future knowing that they won’t end up taking the blame if things turn sour.
Another thing that’s important is to apologise. Don’t just acknowledge your mistake, but acknowledge the repercussions and ask for forgiveness. This is where you now need to hope that in the past you have been forgiving of others – as otherwise your unreasonableness can come back and bite you….
Suggest a Solution
You’ve owned up, you’ve apologised… but unfortunately that’s still not enough. To satisfy your audience you’re going to have to suggest a solution that can at least go some way to undoing any damage. It’s best to have this solution prepared beforehand so that you can present it immediately to allay any fears.
So you made a bad call and now you need to fix it. If that means everyone has to stay late then you should expect there to be a little resentment. You should try to take some of the brunt of the repercussions then, but at the same time you should try to treat it like a mistake that any of your other staff or family would make (and you wouldn’t make them deal with their mistakes entirely on their own).
The best way to handle this then is to come up with a set procedure for handling particular types of mistakes. This way you will then have a single way to deal with them officially that won’t show bias or call into question your fairness.
And then just try not to do it again…
As a leader, how do you handle mistakes? Join in the conversation.
Gregory Fisher is the Founder of Berkeley Sourcing Group. He started BSG eight years ago after realizing the need for efficient processes and coordination between manufacturing firms located in the United States and factories in China.
Join the Conversation
To Err Is Human: How Good Leaders Handle Mistakes
Gregory, Terrific insights. You offer solid advice here which is so important. I would also add to be careful of redirecting behaviors (this comes from not owning up). You may enjoy some of my thinking on the dark side of responding to screw-ups. http://letsgrowleaders.com/2014/01/20/screw-up-post-shouldnt-write/