What You Can Learn from How Leaders Handle Mistakes

We all make mistakes, even the best and most competent leaders and thinkers. It happens, even when we do everything in our power to prevent them. But it is not the mistakes that are so important as what happens next. Those who are genuinely great leaders have mastered the art of dealing with errors, and we could each learn a lot from their example. Here are some of the most important things that great leaders do and what you can learn from how they handle mistakes.

Step 1. Own up quickly.

When something has gone wrong, great leaders are the first ones to admit there is a problem. They don’t try to cover it up, they don’t blame other people, and they don’t’ wait to see if anyone notices. Take responsibility, even for those parts that you did not cause. Leaders who can own up to mistakes, errors and problems build an authentic approach with those that follow them, building trust and influence.

Step 2. Don’t understate the scope of the problem.

Trying to minimize the challenge does not make it any easier to tackle or solve. Belittling the problem is worse than hiding it because you are being dishonest about how it could affect other people. Remember the problem is as huge as others perceive it and presenting a different angle won’t change their mind. The problem is as big as it has magnified in their mindset.

Step 3. Fully diagnose the problem.

The more you know about what happened and why; the better you will be able to devise the right solution or make the right changes in the future. Giving a solution without all the information is neither helpful nor honest, so take the time to figure out the full story before trying to implement a solution. This is not about finding blame, it’s about an honest review to implement the best chance to deal with the problem

Step 4. Ask for feedback and input.

Great leaders realize that they do not have all the answers and that others on their team have valuable insights. While you accept responsibility as a leader, you can still be open to suggestions from your team. The same is true for us all. People around you have perspectives and experiences different from yours, so do not be afraid to ask for advice or input on how to solve your challenge. The approach of being genuine here is important. Providing lip-service and wanting to be seen to be doing the “right thing” will ultimately fail.

Step 5. Make sure the problem is resolved.

Leaders do not rest until a resolution is found, and neither should you, especially when your mistake affects other people. Leaders provide updates to their team when solutions are in the works. Be sure the people in your life know precisely what you are doing to help mend your errors when they are impacted. Clear communication is paramount.

Step 6. Help others learn from your mistakes.

When problems are resolved, leaders use that opportunity to share the lessons learned with others. Leaders want to make learning opportunities for everyone else, too, so they make a point to share their newfound understanding. When you see a friend struggling with a problem that you have some experience with, be sure to let them know what you have learned from your mistakes, too. Leaders look for coachable moments.

Step 7. Don’t just fix the symptom.

When mistakes occur, they can sometimes reveal more systemic or structural problems. When you just fix the immediate problem and not the larger issue, you are guaranteeing that something else will go wrong in the future. Take the time to fix it right. This is true in business, relationships, personal growth, and everything else in life. The problem always happens due to a failure deeper than on the service and a leader will deep dive by asking why, until the actual cause is located.

Step 8. Make a commitment never to repeat your mistakes.

The best way to show others that you are sincere in your efforts to fix a problem is to learn from your mistakes. Break the cycle and stop repeating behaviors or beliefs that perpetuate the problem. Actions speak louder than words, and when a mistake changes you for the better, it speaks loudest of all.

Leaders get to be so because they realize that someone must be in charge and accept responsibility for when things go well and when mistakes happen. The same is true for you in your own life. Be the leader of your happiness, and start handling mistakes like a boss!

Contact me today if you are keen to explore the best leader you can be.


Tony Curl
Author: Tony Curl

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