You Made a Mistake, Now What?

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    career mistakesMistakes happen but no one likes to make them. And certainly very few of us like to admit to them.

    The good news is that mistakes, even big ones, don’t have to leave a permanent mark on your career. Here’s how you can recover quickly and use the experience to learn and grow.

    1. Fess up.

    Trying to hide a mistake or downplay its importance can be fatal to your career. Be candid about the mistake; take responsibility for your part in it; and start rectifying the situation. If the mistake is a big one, it’s best to schedule a one on one meeting with your boss as soon as possible to brief him / her on what happened, why it happened, and what you are planning to do. The key is to not get defensive, point fingers or blame others.

    2. Learn from it.

    According to Paul Schoemaker, co author of Brilliant Mistakes, “If you are going to pay the price for making the mistake, you need to get the learning.” Take time, after the storm, to reflect on lessons learned: What was the situation? What did I, or my team, do? What was the outcome? What could have been done differently?

    If the error was a result of a poor decision, explain to your boss and other interested parties how you will avoid making the same, or a similar misstep, in the future. You have to respond quickly before people make judgments about your competence or expertise. You need to get on top of it, get ahead of it and deal with it.

    3. Get back in the saddle.

    It’s hard to rebuild confidence after slipping up. The key is to not let your errors make you afraid of being innovative, taking risks and finding better ways to do things. If the mistake made people question your expertise, get out there to rebuild their trust. Once the mistake is behind you, focus on the future. Winners win more frequently than losers because they stay in the game.

    Here’s what one manager I worked with said about employees, especially new ones, who make a mistake because of lack of experience. “Who among us doesn’t make mistakes? I love employees who fess up, treat the mistake as a learning moment and move on. I don’t want them to stop experimenting or holding back because of fear of making another misstep. Therefore, I have to accept a mistake now and them so that they will keep learning and performing well.”

    4. Turn your mistake into a valuable moment of personal leadership.

    • What recent mistake have you made at work or in your personal life?
    • How would you rate that mistake on a scale from 1 (minor, little fall out) to 5 (that was a whooper)?
    • What did you learn about yourself and perhaps others?
    • What might you have said or done differently?
    • How can you incorporate this learning going forward?

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    • Copyright © 2010 Marcia Zidle career and leadership coach.