What Does a Leader Do with Their Mistakes?
By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO 

We all make mistakes.  We all get it wrong.  It is a fact of life.  So, what do we do with our mistakes?  As leaders, this is a very important question for us to answer.

It happens to each of us.  We can be so sure of a decision – at the time.  We can be absolutely certain of a course of action – until we realize it is wrong.  We can believe, with all our being, how we must proceed – and begin – and get it all wrong.  As leaders – and people – we know this feeling.  We have lived it.  Now what?

We own it.  And, if we have hurt someone through our mistaken action, we apologize.  We seek to correct the situation as quickly and as resolutely as we can.  When we act this way, we model the behavior we want within our communities, companies, teams, and families.  We want to be leaders that get it right.  When we get it wrong, we can still get our next actions right – if we act accordingly.  If not, we create a condition that encourages ignoring wrong decisions and mistakes.  As hard as it is, we must own our mistakes and not blame others or the situation. Our mistakes – like our successes – are ours to own and live with.  But, we can turn the situation around if we act swiftly and boldly to acknowledge it and take appropriate action.  This is when our genuineness and humility as leaders is on full display.  It is when others see us for who we really are.

Did you know that customer loyalty actually goes up significantly when a customer who is not happy with the service is apologized to and the situation is promptly rectified?  We can get it wrong – and still get it right.  The customer actually becomes a better customer when we get it wrong and correct it. Why is that the case?  Because as humans, we expect ourselves and others to get it wrong – at least some of the time.  However, we are truly amazed and impressed when a person goes out of their way to admit he or she is wrong and fixes it promptly.  The action after the mistake becomes more important than the mistake itself.  Our teammates react the same way to our mistakes.  If we apologize and get it right, we can turn our mistake into an example of who we really are – someone trying hard, and yet is human, and gets it wrong sometimes.

We also need to learn from our mistakes so they do not happen that way again.  In fact, this may be the greatest gift of a mistake. We learn what not to do – which is incredibly valuable for our future.  I often tell my team, “experience is the greatest teacher – but the tuition is very high.”  We do learn a lot and often remember it better when we make mistakes. We will remember for years, usually in a vivid way, our greatest blunders and mistakes.  However, when we learn from them over a lifetime they can be transformed into “wisdom” that can aid us and others greatly.  Use every mistake to determine what to do differently next time.  You paid the “tuition” – now use your learning to help you and others.

Truly great leaders share their lifetime of learning, to include their mistakes, with their teams.  A leader unafraid to admit they got it wrong, learned from it, and can admit it to others has my highest admiration. They show their humanness and humility, they don’t take themselves too seriously, and they demonstrate that my learning is more important than their appearance of perfection.

How do you deal with mistakes in your organization – and in your life?  How do you react when you or others make a mistake?  It is important to consider the consequences and what our actions will be after we and others get it wrong.  Why?  Because, it has happened to all of us — and will happen again.  As a leader, I know this all too well.

Looking for more? Download my Amazon Bestseller, Present-Future Leader:  How to Thrive in Today’s Economy.