Emerging Tech

What to do after you've made a mistake

How you handle a job mistake can be the critical difference between a slow career death and moving ahead. In this blog, John M McKee shares six of his favorite tips for dealing effectively with a mistake.

"John, this could be the end for me. I've done a lot of good work, but where I work there's little tolerance for screwups -- the stakes are too big. I need your advice!"

The person speaking wasn't a client; I'd actually just met him about 10 minutes before. We were at a party, he'd heard from someone that I help individuals improve their performance; and he came over to meet me. Then I got the download about his screwup. Actually, screwups.

He'd clearly experienced a "rough patch." This most recent hassle seemed to be just one in a series of problems he'd experienced. He told me that his boss was probably ready to get rid of him. He wanted to keep his job but didn't know what to do next.

Everyone, at some point, screws up. How you react afterward can be the difference between a lonely trip downhill and getting a pass for the ski lift to the big slopes. Here are 6 of my favorite tactics for dealing after you've made a mistake:

  1. Recognize that this issue doesn't mean you are a bad manager or that you're not doing a good job overall. It means you screwed up this time. Recognize the difference and vow to do better next time.  And don't aim for perfection; you'll be disappointed every time.
  2. Listen to the criticism. Get past your emotions. Then look at the task at hand. Work through the problem using the same approaches you would if someone asked you to fix a problem caused by someone else.
  3. Don't get defensive. One way or another, you've made a mistake, so make sure you understand the problem or issue. Ask questions to show that you're open to feedback. The goal is to get a better grasp on where you went wrong and what needs to be done to rectify the situation.
  4. Expect heat from others. If this is a big deal or one in a series of smaller hassles, it's likely that those affected (or your supervisor) are going to be cranky. Let them. Understand that it's part of a necessary process. Once they've "shared" with you, it will be easier for all involved to move forward. At that point, it can be smart to ask what they'd do to improve things.
  5. Be a grown-up about it and admit that you messed up. Many, perhaps most, people have difficulty admitting they've made a mistake. Those who will admit their mistakes often gain even more respect for their "objectivity." They may even get a reputation of being more emotionally mature in the face of difficulty, which is a sign of leadership.
  6. Don't dwell on this for too long. Some individuals spend forever focusing on the past. They review their mistakes over and over, trying to figure out why they did what they did. The smart ones learn from their mistakes. Then they move forward confidently. They know they're not going to do that again. Beating yourself up has a bad impact on how you regard yourself over time. That, in itself, can be career-limiting behavior.

It's my opinion that the best managers are those who've made mistakes and moved forward afterward. They are the ones who are more likely to be able to guide others effectively as a result of their own learning. When someone says they don't make mistakes, it makes me wonder if they have taken enough risks.

Here's to your future!

John

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

15 comments
nutmec
nutmec

its always wise to forgive yourself first before moving on

Spexi
Spexi

I'll save this as it had many good wise words & meanings for future use as a help. I think it's also very important to not being fast in judge people when they made mistakes. It's like it's been written here behind the lines "It is human to fail" and many times people gets scaired over the fact that they made one or more mistakes & tries protect it by white lies for instance. Be careful in this moments when bring the guilty person face to face. There are people who have a really hard time to handle these moments correct on both sides and despite of age letting other energies rule like "if having a bad day or had a terrible childhood" I've seen it so many times there people gets after someone by the taste of beet the guilty one without a clue in what this might give in suffer afterwords so it's not always worth the hunt even if it's feels great to be like a policeman in that particularly moment.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

My experience, both in IT and previous jobs, is that you are going to make mistakes, period. No getting around that. What is important is knowing how to deal with it, resolve the problem. To me the ability to fix a mistake is as important as any other job skill.

MaNivi
MaNivi

Take time to strategize.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Don't mis-take. Mistakes and hand-wringing are the sport of bureaucrats.

TammieV
TammieV

Thanks John. Great advise.

maclovin
maclovin

Damn, the ol' discussion at the OK Corral: Management vs IT Management are the ones throwing temper tantrums. If they reduced the LENGTH of the chain of command in many organizations, people would actually be much more responsible and productive, b/c they could not "pass it on down the line". Nor would so much time be spent "managing", and then people could get work done, and the management processes would be streamlined and completed much more efficiently (one would hope). As an admin, I ALWAYS love that I am the one that acts grown up and is not to get out of hand, but management is allowed to do it, and I'm not supposed to let it bother me. This article seems to reinforce that behavior by the vast majority of business management (which I see as one iota of a tier above sales) whose only real reason for the temper tantrum is covering their own ass making it look like it wasn't their fault for misinterpreting things or making false promises in the first place.

TammieV
TammieV

I agree, this article with the replies is a keeper.

cobbgw
cobbgw

I like that response. It could almost be read as "Notice it, Fix it, and move on".

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

Worrying and hand-wringing is inevitable if your experience tells you what will happen next. Sometimes management's finger-pointing can be accurate, but their response can be brutal. Somebody upstairs is saying "We know who screwed up, and he won't have a chance to do it again." Your excellent record will probably not be mentioned. No one will dare come to your defence. It's best to have contacts with other companies at all times in case you find a sudden need to move on.

MET1
MET1

Handle it wrong and usually everyone remembers! Admit your mistake, clean it up and find a way to prevent it appening again and you don't usually suffer - that's according to my experience. It's the mistakes that someone tries to cover up without taking responsibility or fixing or tries to blame others on that are remembered and affect you (and others) for a long time.

TammieV
TammieV

I understand and I know where you are coming from. We have the same prob here. But throwing a temper tantrum just makes 2 people throwing temper tantrums and nothing getting done. Sometimes we just have to suck it up and show them we are the bigger person.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

People have a tendency to remember the ill things rather than the good. We love to complain SO much about wrong-doings and other people's "oops" moments. But when it comes to remembering how Joe Schmoe made a great presentation last week... well. Too bad, it's forgotten.

Spexi
Spexi

That's how our brains works and how we usually act & react in psykological & psyko-social behaiviors with other peoples. Unfortunately:)