Face it. Leadership mistakes are inevitable. As a leader, you are going to make mistakes. That’s just reality. Every leader makes mistakes.
What matters, then, and what helps separate great leaders from poor leaders, is what you do when they happen.
- When you make a mistake, what will you do?
- What steps will you take when you make a mistake that costs money, or time or causes disgruntlement with the team?
- What will you do when you don’t reach financial or other goals?
- If you treated someone poorly, how would you respond?
- Will you admit to that mistake and fix it?
- Or will you cast blame or pretend it didn’t happen?
Your actions will determine the type of leader you are as well as your effectiveness as a leader.
What leaders often do when they make leadership mistakes:
- Pretend it didn’t happen.
- Blame someone or something else for why it happened.
- Make excuses and justify their mistakes.
- Lie about it.
- Pretend it was a success.
- Get angry, miserable, yell, etc.
- Or do a mixture of the above.
As a leader yourself, you can do better than this. Here’s how to overcome leadership mistakes in 3 steps:
1. Take Ownership of Your Mistake
One of the most critical and biggest mistakes leaders make is not taking ownership of their mistakes. This comes about for a variety of reasons.
First, some leaders feel they have to act “invincible and strong” in front of their employees.
They believe that showing weakness or vulnerability will make them look weak and that they will not be respected as a leader.
- Have you ever seen that before?
- Do you see it in yourself?
The truth is, it’s the exact opposite.
As John Maxwell said in his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:Your people know when you make mistakes. The real question is whether you’re going to ‘fess up. If you do, you can often quickly regain their trust. ~ John Maxwell Click To Tweet
Your team knows when you mess up. They will see your mistakes and probably know your weakness. Pretending that everything is great makes you look weak.
People will respect you more if you are open and honest with them. They will also be more likely to follow you. (Yes, there is the ability to be TOO vulnerable, but too often, leaders show too little vulnerability).
What’s the second reason leaders don’t admit failure or mistakes?
Some leaders don’t admit mistakes because of their insecurities (or they are just all about themselves).
- They want to look good. They want to be seen as a good leader.
- They may be more about themselves and their agenda than the team.
- When something goes wrong, they don’t want to admit their mistakes, so they blame something else.
- They blame the economy. They blame their team.
- They blame other departments – just never themselves.
- If they behave poorly to someone, they don’t admit it – they blame the behavior of the other person for their actions.
- They are also likely to be the kind of leaders who take credit for everything good.
- They blame when things go wrong and take all the credit when things go well.
Have you seen this kind of mistake before? Does that describe you as a leader?
Also Read: 75 Common Leadership Mistakes…
If you want to be a great leader, you must do the opposite.
- Be willing to admit mistakes.
- If you make a mistake or fail at it, own it.
- Admit it. It’s likely everyone else already sees it.
To blame or make excuses just makes you look weak as a leader. And, if you are blaming your team, you are also hurting teamwork and creating ill will.
Even if it was something one of your team did that led to the failure, as a leader, you are ultimately responsible. If you behaved poorly, even if someone “deserved it”, still own it and apologize.
Furthermore, when you and your team do well and deserve praise, pass the praise and credit to your team, not yourself.
Bottom line: Own your mistake and take full responsibility for your actions.
2. Examine what went wrong and learn from it
Taking ownership of your mistake is the first critical step you need to take. However, if that’s all you do, you leave yourself to make the same mistake over and over.
So, as a leader what would you do next?
After you take full responsibility, take the time to examine what went wrong.
If it was an activity or behavior that only had to do with you, take some time and examine the reasons why those mistakes occurred.
- Did someone say something that hit insecurity?
- Did you not plan well enough ahead?
- What could you have done differently in that situation?
Also Read: 141 Signs You Are a Bad Leader
Learn from your mistakes.
If it is helpful to you, you can also get others involved in the search.
If it was a mistake that you led (e.g. your team didn’t meet certain expectations or mistakes happened while performing), it’s okay to spend time examining it yourself, but it can also be beneficial to dive into the mistake as a group (or with the other individual).
Make it clear to everyone that you aren’t searching for blame. However, you do want to look for the causes and ways that you can improve your chances of not making the same mistakes again.
(If it’s a behavior or action of a specific person, help the person process and recognize what happened through good questioning. Provide whatever support and training they might need to succeed.)
It’s not about blaming or punishing, it’s about learning.
Go through the process and steps of what happened and examine it from every angle.
- What mistakes were made?
- What can be done differently?
Also as a side note: In the future, when making plans, you can do a pre-mortem. A pre-mortem is where you say “Ok, it’s 6 months (or however long) in the future and our plan failed. What happened?”
Then, evaluate the potential failures of your plan and work towards preventing them from happening again.
Bottom line: Once you take full responsibility, examine the failures to determine the causes and learn from them.
3. Commit and take action to fix the issue to keep it from happening again
In some cases, you made crucial mistakes that affected other people. When you took ownership, you should have already taken the first step to fixing the issue: apologizing.
After you apologize, you still need to see why it happened.
- What can you do to fix it?
- How can you prevent it from happening again in the future?
In other cases, you may not need to apologize, but you still need to work to fix the issue, or at the least, make necessary changes to ensure that it will not happen again.
After you’ve identified the culprit of those mistakes, take action. Talk to whomever you need to make it happen. If you still need to apologize, apologize. If you need to change priorities or habits or routines, do so.
If you need to change procedures, make it happen.
Whatever it is, commit to it and execute necessary changes so you can avoid doing the same mistakes over again.
Bottom line: Once you’ve identified the causes of the mistakes, commit to fixing them and prevent those mistakes from happening again.
Final Thoughts on Overcoming Leadership Mistakes Effectively
The steps to take to overcome leadership mistakes are simple, but they can be hard to do.
Because of that, too many leaders fail to follow it. You may have observed this fact in some of the leaders you have worked for.
But that’s not going to be you.
You, on the other hand, will take ownership of your mistakes and then exert the effort to make the necessary changes, right?
Because if you do, you are one step closer to being an even greater leader that others want to follow.
As Anne Frank said: ” What is done cannot be undone, but at least one can keep it from happening again.”
And that would be YOU.