We’ve all struggled to overcome and recover from a major boo-boo. If you haven’t, then maybe you’re not venturing out or playing big enough. I have found that the bigger the goal, the more risks involved, and the greater the opportunities for missteps and setbacks.
As a leader, you may think that you’re finally beyond or above making mistakes. Ha! Think again. My client, “Tim,” found this out the hard way, when he recently sent a sensitive email to the wrong person. And the wrong person happened to be an important client (oops! I hate when that happens).
Since I count myself in that group, continuing to screw up (literally as recently as last week), I thought I’d share the process I go through that I call, “I blew it, I knew it, and here’s how I grew through it!”
Here are a few steps you can take to not only recover, but to come out stronger on the other end of a blunder.
- Forgive yourself. Beating yourself up over and over will only bring you down, and may only cause you to make the same mistake again. Besides, self-flagellation and martyrdom are over-rated. Give yourself some grace – the same kind of grace you’d give a loved one who made a boo-boo. You are, after all, a mere mortal, and no one is above screwing up.
- Own it. If your mess up was hurtful to someone else, ask for his forgiveness, do what you can to make it right, commit to not letting it happen again, and move on. Don’t try to cover it up, blame it on the stars, or point your finger at the cat, (although the cat probably DID have a hand in it). As a leader, bearing responsibility with courage and grace will actually be seen as strength of character rather than reveal weakness. Team members will respect you all the more for it.
- Keep it in perspective. Consider whether this issue will still matter six months – or even six weeks – from now.
- Don’t compound the problem. We all screw up, but the only real failure is when you don’t learn a lesson in the screw-up. Sometimes the universe has to hit you between the eyes with a two-by-four to get your attention. Could the lesson be that you need to slow down, literally and figuratively? Could it be that you need to put down your smart phone/device and really connect with the person sitting across from you? Reflect on what happened and what you can take away from the experience. Journaling or jotting notes can often be a big help with this process. Whatever you do, do not pass GO, do not collect $200 until you’ve internalized the lesson.
- Apply the lesson. You realize that knowledge is not power. It’s not enough to know that you should double-check the recipients of any email before hitting send, you must apply that knowledge. Consider exactly what you will do differently to avoid making the same bone-headed mistake again in the future. Applied knowledge is where the real power comes in.
- Recognize what is going well. Remember that you’re a good person. Maybe make a list of your own good qualities, talents, and successes. And yes, despite how you may feel right now, you’ve got plenty of them.
- Focus forward. This is super important. When my husband and I go bike riding, if I turn around to look back on every rock or stick that I just rolled over, I will likely run into something else because I’m not looking where I’m going. Once you’ve taken the above steps, concentrate on the next positive step forward that you can take. Realize that success won’t happen immediately or overnight, but will come with consistent, incremental steps forward. And you can’t take those steps forward if you’re busy looking back at your last mistake.
If you happen to notice one of your team members, your colleagues, or even a friend or family member is struggling to bounce back after a mistake, be sure to share these steps with them. Let’s face it. Everyone makes mistakes. How you handle those mistakes and lead others to grow from their mistakes will tell the true tale of your character.
- How do you deal with the inevitable boo-boos in life and work?
- What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself about dealing with mistakes?
- Pop a comment in my blog and share your insights with our community.
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Jennifer Ledet, CSP, is a leadership consultant and professional speaker (with a hint of Cajun flavor) who equips leaders from the boardroom to the mailroom to improve employee engagement, teamwork, and communication. In her customized programs, leadership retreats, keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, she cuts through the BS and talks through the tough stuff to solve your people problems.