Mistakes happen. We would all like to avoid those “Stupid has its own momentum” moments, but face it—stupid gets the best of all of us at some point. So what do you do when you find yourself in the middle of a blunder, unfortunate miscalculation, or any other euphemism for making a mistake?
Risk management experts and a most lawyers will rightfully tell you to be careful with what you say and do. Any statement or action can be used as an admission of guilt that has significant implications.
Here’s the thing: the lawyers are paid to tell you the answer that will protect your legal interests, just like your CPA is paid to tell you the answer that will protect your tax interests.
You, on the other hand, are responsible for making the best leadership decision. Leaders live and die based on their credibility. That means accepting responsibility. Here are three steps, from my book On My Honor, I Will, to take when you find yourself or your organization in the position of having to respond to a mistake.
1. Admit it and own up to it if you did it. It is not enough to make a lame rationalization or half-baked apology. Everyone can spot an insincere statment a mile away. If you did it, admit it. Don’t use weasel words. Don’t be arrogant, and don’t think that position, status, or circumstances make you special. You shouldn’t take responsibility for something you didn’t do, and don’t admit to something if the facts are in question. You know if what you did was wrong. Admit it and accept the consequences that will come from it. You may not protect your rear, but you will earn more respect.
2. Act on it. Don’t just apologize for the mistake. Do something to correct the situation or mitigate the effects. Do something to make sure that this type of problem never happens again. In January 1988 Ashland Oil Company dumped 3.9 million gallons of diesel fuel into the Monongahela River outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The prosecutor in the case sought to obtain $8 million in damages, double the amount allowed by the Clean Water Act, because of the number of mistakes and violations that occurred. Ashland, however, was given a much lower fine of $2.25 million because the judge found that the company had done everything that it could to make restitution and correct the situation.
3. Move on, but don’t forget. Thanks to digital technology and the Internet, the smallest of errors can be broadcast around the world in a matter of minutes. Every cell phone with a movie or camera feature makes you a potential star at the most inopportune time. Every person with a blog or social media account is an investigative reporter looking to break an interesting story. The mistakes we make eventually recede from public discussion, but they never really go away. That is an unfortunate consequence of living in a connected world. You, on the other hand, must move on. Becoming shackled by the past helps no one. It is essential, however, that the lessons never recede from memory. We have all witnessed the truth in Sir Winston Churchill’s statement, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
For more on this topic, check out two books: Shut Up, Stop Whining, & Get a Life by my friend, Larry Winget and my book, On My Honor, I Will: The Journey to INTEGRITY-DRIVEN® Leadership.
To all my friends in the United States, Happy Thanksgiving.
Thanks again for joining the Results Rule! Revolution!