There are times when you just blow it as a leader. I’m not talking about a moral failure here or anything that would disqualify you for a ministry leadership position. No, there are times when you simply make a poor leadership decision, plan an event or initiative that just doesn’t go anywhere, or maybe even forget about an important meeting. And when that happens, you might feel like the goalkeeper feels in this video:
The question is this: How do you react when you do the leadership equivalent of what the goalkeeper does in the video? When we mess up big time, here’s what we need to do as leaders:
Own the mistake
Confession: My first reaction when I make a boneheaded mistake that affects the people I lead is to find an excuse that either takes the blame off me or at least makes me look a little less stupid. It may make me feel better, but the truth is those around me see right through these kinds of excuses and attempts to shift the blame. Just own your mistake; people will respect you far more for being honest (even if what you did was pretty stupid).
Take the time to sincerely apologize to those your mistake affected. Don’t make it a generic, “Gee I messed up” kind of apology. Instead, personally talk with or write a note to each person who was inconvenienced or hurt by your boneheaded move. Remember, an apology is different from making an excuse that may or may not include the phrase “I’m sorry” (see the first item on this list if you need a refresher on this.
Make it right
If there’s something you can do to make the situation better, make time to do that. It may be rescheduling a missed appointment at the soonest, most convenient time for the other person. Or perhaps it’s simply taking someone out to lunch to talk through any stress your mistake put on your relationship with that person. When you’ve made an embarrassing mistake, the temptation is to just say, “I’m sorry” and try your best to forget about it, but you may have a few messes you need to clean up first.
Find ways to keep it from happening again
If you blew off an appointment or meeting, make some changes in how you schedule and keep track of appointments. If you made a poor decision, add another layer to your decision-making process. No one’s perfect and the mistake you made probably won’t be your last, but you can always find something to learn from every mistake.
When you’ve owned it, apologized, done your best to make it right, and learned from it, at some point you do need to move on. We all make embarrassing mistakes, but there’s no benefit to dwelling on them forever. It’s always okay to move on to bigger and better mistakes.
What else do we need to do when we make embarrassing mistakes?