When Leaders Make Mistakes

When Leaders Make Mistakes - 2I came across an article in an industry magazine that talked about how companies react when things go wrong. They cited the recent very public grief that Toyota, BP and Goldman Sachs received over challenges they faced in regard to problems that came from within their own businesses, was of their own making, and required really careful handling. None of them handled it particularly well and suffered greatly as a result.

This led me to think of what team leaders can learn from their mistakes. Because we are sure of one thing – things will go wrong, we will make mistakes and we need to be prepared as leaders to deal with it. The repercussions of mishandling were and still are enormous to the organizations mentioned, but let’s not be smug about it, because we all have been guilty of making similar, if not so public, mistakes in our own role as leaders.

When Leaders Make Mistakes - 3So, what do we do, when the inevitable happens? Here are five things I found that seems like they would be good options.

  1. Get Out In Front Of It-FAST. We must be absolutely honest about the matter, with all the details that we are in possession of. Don’t try to “manage” the information. Don’t justify holding something back because “we can’t tell them that” type of excuse. Be absolutely honest, and be honest as fast as you possibly can. Delaying will always come across as hiding something.
  2. Accept The Blame (Responsibility). Take it on the chin and don’t blame your suppliers, your outsourced workers, your competitors, the market or anything else. Just out your hand up and “fess up”. Anything else and you will sound weak.
  3. Do Something. When I talk about action, I mean massive action!! Not just what makes you look good, or being seen to do the right thing. Do everything that you can possibly think of that will remedy the situation.
  4. Be Honest. Don’t fall into “spin”. If what you are doing is working, then tell everyone. If it isn’t then tell everyone! It is highly likely that everyone will know whether the actions are working or not, so be honest. You will be respected for it. If the actions are not effective, then tell them about the corrective actions and why you are changing course.
  5. Learn From Your Mistake. You want to teach the team a lesson, make the lesson you. When the dust has settled and the problem is solved, have a really good review with all the stakeholders of what was learned from the experience to prevent it happening in the future. This is not a witch hunt, it is not about blame and do not allow it to descend into a bitching session. This last rule is often forgotten as the inclination is just to move on and forget about the mess that happened. Do that and you miss fantastic learning for you as a leader, and for the team.

Some or maybe all of these things will be hard to do, but ya know what?  If Leadership was easy, we wouldn’t be commenting on a blog.

Surround yourself with peers that are leaders as well, and you will all benefit from each others successes and mistakes.

Photo credit: TerranceDC / Foter.com / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: opensourceway / Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: advertisingelyse / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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I am a Christian, a Husband and a Father, in that order. Leadership is important to me, because I see too many outside influences acting on the lives of my children, and I need support to make sure I am the most dominant influence. I appreciate your feedback and enjoy reading your input. Thanks in advance for being part of this endeavor.

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