Moving Forward After A Mistake – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: January 5, 2019

We recently covered a few topics around difficult conversations with team members and some of the challenges of having a few “surprise” moments during performance discussions. The reality is for leaders, we don’t always make great decisions in these moments and we don’t always do things perfectly in the moment.

Let’s face it, if we have been leading people for more than a few days, we make mistakes. There are certainly times when we made a business decision that proved to be an ineffective choice financially or strategically for our group. However, in today’s writing I want to address when we make mistakes on the day to day personal interactions and meetings with our team.

Over time, little mistakes pile up into a string of behaviors which will soon become our team’s view of the culture of our leadership, so we need to maintain a level of discipline and intention about moving forward after a mistake on the personal and team level. These mistakes are much subtler than the catastrophic strategic business choices that are visible to everyone and below are just a few examples:

  • We simply spoke too much instead of listening and asking a few thoughtful questions. As a result, we could sense the person began to close down the discussion with an unresolved issue and we both moved on to the next pressing agenda item or meeting.
  • We made a comment while presenting a topic to a small group that either should not have been said or just was not received in the manner we intended. Whether it was a simple joke, a comment about an individual, or a situation in the business, in the moment, we could feel it did not go over well and most likely impacted the rest of our presentation.
  • We missed delivering on a follow-up item with an individual or group. Most people realize mistakes get made, but missing some specific, agreed upon follow-up, even if it was a “small” one, can become a real challenge to our leadership effectiveness over time.

Since none of us are perfect, here are a few ideas to help us move forward after we make a mistake:

  1. These day to day mistakes seem often minor in the grand scheme of things, so our first step is to continue to work on our self-awareness and emotional intelligence to better feel and sense the times when we were not effective in the moment. As leaders we may have multiple priorities bouncing around in our head, but we need to stay attune to the rhythm and emotions of others, in the moment, to be most aware of these types of mistakes.
  2. Put it on the table. Making a simple, direct acknowledgment of the mistake will go a long way. “I did not handle this well.” “I could tell I made a mistake as soon as we left the meeting.” “I dropped the ball on that one.”
  3. Ask those directly impacted for their thoughts and impressions to confirm or clarify what we felt was a mistake. “I felt my behavior did not foster the open discussion I intended, is that how you saw things?” “It seemed like my one comment about our sales shortfall, derailed the rest of the meeting, did you sense that?” 
  4. Genuinely acknowledging our mistake and commit to learn, grow, and adjust our behavior to be a better leader as a result will set an example for others to follow and will help our leadership effectiveness over time.   

Today’s senior executives and top talent set the tone for transparency, genuine humility in acknowledging mistakes and can provide a steady example of modifying behaviors when we go off course to help build an organization that continues to learn and grow. Organizations that thrive on learning and growing will be the most likely to succeed in the increasingly intense, uncertain, and complex global marketplace.

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say?

Here are a few resources to help:

  1. Download FREE resources at
  2. Contact me. Email: (M) 269-370-9275

David Esposito

Shot of two young businesswomen talking to each other while being seated in the office at work

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