Education

What to do when you screw up

Sooner or later everyone screws up. Leadership coach John M. McKee says that how you react and what you do next can either derail you or help you move up the ladder.
Every leader, at some point, screws up. Things will be going along nicely but then something unexpected happens. Suddenly you're looking up from the floor where you landed flat on your back.

What occurs at that point might range from simply being scolded to being fired.

How you respond to your mistake can make a big difference to your sense of confidence. As importantly, your response could impact whether your career continues to move forward, or if you're into a career-derailing situation.

No one wants to be on the receiving end of criticism, but when you mess up, it's another one of those "opportunities" to make lemonade out of lemons. Showing upper management that you handle their comment professionally allows them to see how you react in a difficult situation. Your style will be closely watched:

"Does she admit her problems or blame others?"

"Is he acting like a person who learns from their mistakes and won't repeat this again?"

Regardless of whether the criticism is constructive, it's very important that you face the situation well. People will be watching. How effectively you respond will have an impact on your professional growth and ultimate success.

For when you hit that inevitable banana peel yourself, here are six tips for coping with a screw up:

1. Listen to the criticism. Even though you may feel hurt, try to see past your emotions to the task at hand. Remember the old adage that "there's no crying in baseball" -- likewise at the workplace. 2. Don't get defensive. Show that you are trying to understand the criticism and ask questions to ensure you get what's being said. Make it clear that you want to do what's needed to rectify the situation. 3. If you did something wrong, admit it. People respect others who show that they are mature enough to know that they made a mistake. It shows professionalism. I've had HR execs say to me that they won't hire individuals who can't tell them of a mistake or two they'd made earlier. 4. If you notice the problem before the boss, tell her/him first. If you have a solution to the problem, try to implement it first; but if that's not possible, tell the boss what the hassle is and provide the solution at the same time. 5. Shrug off criticism. Dwelling on screw ups makes you less productive and impacts your own sense of self worth. It can make you negative and less valuable to the organization. People will be less welcoming as a result. 6. Review. Get together with colleagues to discuss what happened and get their assessments. Often, what it felt like to you will be very different from what they saw or understood. They have a different perspective and can be more objective.

John

Leadership Coach

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...

18 comments
prosenjit11
prosenjit11

yes, one should think back and try to understand what went wrong and the mistake is not repeated.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

If you've never made a mistake, you probably have not ever done much that is important nor stepped up to the plate when "somebody" was needed to make a decision no one else wanted to make. In short, you aren't a leader of any sort. When the inevitable happens and you do make a big mistake ... remember Mr Murphy's laws, which dictate that it WILL happen sooner or later ... then behave like a leader if that is what you want to think of yourself as being. Take responsibility for it. No excuses, no blaming others and finger pointing. It was YOUR decision, and it flopped for whatever reason. Now move on, and start executing Plan B. You do have a Plan B, right? No? Geez, maybe you ought to rethink the position you accepted. ALWAYS have a plan B. And preferably, a Plan C, and a Plan D, etc. It's called Disaster Recovery. Otherwise referred to Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome. I'm a retired military guy. And was taught, repeatedly, a basic principle. That the very best thought out and carefully planned and executed battle plan ... rarely survives long after the first bullet is fired in a battle. Thus one develops a Plan B, a Plan C, etc. And makes all necessary preparations to execute one or more of those as needed. But whatever you do, don't make excuses or try to pass around the blame. If you do, you've just lost the respect or trust of both those who work for you and those for whom you work. Most folks can forgive a mistake, even a big one. We've all made them, whether we admit it or not. A few folks, will ride yah about it, make fun of you, talk behind your back, etc ... maybe forever. Nothing you can do about that. Some people are just like that. Have nothing better to do with their time, and criticizing others is the only way they can feel better about themselves. Ignore them. Nothing you do will change em and its a waste of your time to try. Move on. They will almost always be a minority of the folks, anyway. The majority might make a big thing of it at first, but once they see you aren't wimping out and making excuses and are doing what it takes to fix the issue, they'll let it drop. Do learn from your mistakes. When there is time, think about the sequence of events that lead up to the mistake in as unbiased fashion as you can manage, cutting yourself no slack, and try to identify the real cause of the mistake. You can not really do this well if you are in the "poor me" mode, looking for a scapegoat to blame, etc. Yah need to be brutally honest with yourself. The ONLY finger pointing you should do is that which can be done while standing in front of a mirror. Just my thoughts. Worth no more than that.

Mick_obrien685
Mick_obrien685

I was in a meeting when the blame/recriminations game started, after a boring 20 minutes of this, I put my hand up and took the blame. "But this has nothing to do with you or your department" was the comment, "I know", I said "I was just demonstrating a concept".

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Mistakes are inevitable if you are doing something. Only those who aren't doing anything (or just doing the same thing over and over and over and ...) avoid mistakes. If it was someone in your team the proper approach is "We screwed up". Especially if everyone knows who the real culprit was. Why? It really takes the steam out of someone's sails if they were all prepared to berate you and you admit to the mistake before they can accuse you. Especially if you can explain what you should have done and what to look for in the future. This is especially true if you stop the blame game in its tracks (i.e. it's your teams' fault or better still the client's fault). Everyone realizes what you are doing and that you've handled it already. So they back off. Of course, every once in a while ... but then again bullies seldom are willing to admit to their own mistakes and if you keep your cool .... Glen Ford http://www.trainingnow.ca

Sparkie123
Sparkie123

If you can't hide your screw up try & shift the blame onto someone else - lol If this doesn't work take it on the chin & learn from your mistakes.

travelcare_chris
travelcare_chris

My biggest screw up was bad. We were moving our office in July and I was moving the servers and primary systems in my own car so the movers didn't actually touch them. The initial screw up was not insisting that "no, the servers in my trunk would not be fine sitting in the parking lot in July, in Florida, while I help you pack up your office." Unfortunately, she ignored my initial concern and I did not insist. As a result, we lost our main server. It turned out our SCSI HDD array was much more susceptible to heat than a standard HDD and in spite of the RAID 5 array, when you lose two out of three drives, the whole thing is a loss. This all worked out in my favor by being able to show the systems that I had in place. Sure it took most of a day to download our essential systems from the remote backup and get things running again. And it took us about a week before everything was running back to normal, but by being prepared for the worst, focusing on the solution instead of the blame, and not outwardly showing my initial panic, it all improved my standing with upper management.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But in the real world you learn from your mistakes not from the things that go right. The best lessons are from what you've done wrong and they last forever never to be forgotten. But you don't have to dwell on them just learn from them and you'll be much better for it. Col

alan.radlett
alan.radlett

Isn't point 5 a bit mutually exclusive to point 1, i.e. listen to criticism vs shrug off critism

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

cover managers? If I screw up when I'm leading it's all a bit obvious, the people following me look round puzzled, and say useful things like. Huh? Management style get out clauses like, no we really wanted to be in knee deep in this swamp, or I was acting on Mr McKee's information, don't work. You are never going to get anywhere while you persist in the fallacy that manager = leader.

Jaqui
Jaqui

deal with the mess you made. My most severe mistake I made in my restaurant career had only me in the kitchen, and 195 people walked in the door at once. Kitchen half torn apart doing cleaning. no trained help to handle the volume. I pulled the dishwasher into the cooking area, trained him on one item on one station to start. every other item on that station that I needed, I trained him on making it as I made it. The next day my boss had spent the day complaining about being called in the night before. The two owners called me over when I came in and asked about it. I asked the kitchen manager what exactly he had done when he came in. [ cooked one order of eggs, over easy, not an item my night shift gets very often ] I picked up the service time book from in front of them, opened it to the night before's entries, showed that there was ZERO impact on service times, then pointed to the DROP in labour and food costs, and walked away. 2 weeks later, that dishwasher was one of the best cooks in the place, and we had a new kitchen manager.

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

I've seen many individuals' momentum stall because they got defensive.

jwildhair
jwildhair

The 'Blame Game' does nothing to rectify a situation. Learning from your mistake & using yourself &/or the experience in the future to teach others what Not to do, will help everyone involved as well as prevent later accidents. It also shows your bosses & subordinates that you can take the high road.

tiscaree
tiscaree

Or karma if you prefer. All it takes is the wrong person to feel blamed or a boss that totally can see thru that. Then your in deeper or in a bad office enviroment. Best bet is to just fess up then talk about how you plan on changing or fixing the situation. Works everytime for me.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

It's not that you don't pay attention and make corrective changes, it's that you don't let it become the center of your life. Bill

arimanor
arimanor

I usually practice a simple report of my I.T class to my previous IT manager. But the new manager screwed me up because my simple report did not meet like what her espected to. I just replied to her that I was trained to be a good IT trainer not to be a good news reporter...

maecuff
maecuff

Find someone to blame. And make sure it's someone introverted, shy, mousy and afraid to make waves..they'll just take it. Make SURE you won't found out by being the most vocal about the mistake. Do a lot of head shaking, talk about how it will negatively impact so many things. Make veiled comments about how some people should just be let go. All that works like a charm. Or, at least my boss thinks it does.

Jaqui
Jaqui

that's why new kitchen manager within two weeks. 1) he made a huge deal over next to nothing. 2) I admitted my mistake. [ letting the last other cook go early ] 3) I showed that my mistake reduced expenses, improving profits, with no adverse effects on service or quality. 4) I found them a fantastic cook to add to the kitchen. 5) showed where a mistake by someone else gave me bad information that lead to my mistake, yet didn't point fingers at anyone else.