New Leader Tuesday: A Mistake is a Horrible Thing to Waste

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New Leader Tuesday at Management Excellence

The New Leader’s Series here at Management Excellence, is dedicated to the proposition that one of the most valuable things we can do is support the development of the next generation of leaders on our teams and in our organizations. 

Beyond the certainty of death and taxes, one other absolute in life is that as a leader, you will make mistakes. A great number of them.  From misspeaking to making a decision that turns out wrong to a million other areas to show off your humanness, mistakes are part of the learning to lead process. How you choose to deal with your mistakes will help determine people’s perception of you and speak volumes about your leadership character.

6 Suggestions for Dealing with and Benefiting from Your Mistakes:

1. Practice saying the words, “I was wrong.” For some of us, those words don’t flow easily, but they are the most powerful words in your vocabulary when it comes to dealing with your mistake. Anything less will sound like an excuse.

2. No “Buts” Please. Saying, “I was wrong, but,…” is just as bad as making up an excuse. Don’t be tempted to qualify your mistake…it just sounds weak and hurts your credibility.

3. Resist the urge to point your finger. If it happened on your watch or on your team, it’s your fault. Stories of bosses pointing fingers at others for their mistakes (and at themselves for the success of others) are legendary. It might be tempting to blame someone else when the boss is glowering at you, but resist the urge to point. Take your medicine and use your team member’s mistake as a developmental opportunity.

4. Share where you went wrong. If your gaffe was an interpersonal one, admit to the other party that you recognize what you did wrong. For example, “I shouldn’t have jumped to a conclusion before I heard all of the facts.”  If the mistake was related to a decision, assess where you might have gone wrong and share the mistake. “I framed this problem wrong. I let emotions get in the way of a clear view to the situation, and I made a rash decision.”  This is powerful credibility building juice and a teaching moment for everyone involved.

5. Apologize. The fine art of the workplace apology is often ignored in the workplace. Instead of a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of character and strength. 

6. Keep a journal and review it to support your own improvement. I’m a huge fan of maintaining a decision and issue log and noting how my decisions work-out over time. Log the results and take a few minutes to jot down what you learned. Review the journal frequently.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Rather than dwell on or attempt to hide your mistakes, confront them head-on, help everyone learn something, including professionalism under fire and move on!

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By | 2016-10-22T17:11:27+00:00 August 7th, 2012|Career, Leadership|17 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. […] Petty shares tips to deal with your mistakes providing a great reminder on a number of levels.  Most of all, he advises, rightly so, how you […]

  2. Catherine Saar August 9, 2012 at 6:28 am - Reply

    I loved this post. Over the course of my marketing career, I sometimes had to admit and correct a mistake that had occurred on my watch. While many of my bosses suggested that I should not apologize, in fact, I basically took the approach you suggest here. Each time I did so, my “audience” was grateful, respectful and forgiving. It actually build trust and strengthened my working relationships. I not only appreciate your clear and conscientious post about this, but I also endorse it. I plan to share your thoughts on my blog as well. Thanks!

    • Art Petty August 9, 2012 at 8:11 am - Reply

      Catherine, thanks for the great “case in point.” My own experience mirrors yours in this area. Thanks for reading and sharing! -Art

  3. Robert Clark August 9, 2012 at 8:55 am - Reply

    Simply taking the blame because the error was someone you were responsible for is not a good solution. In fact, it can be a form of untruthfulness. Not everyone needs a full explanation but your superiors are due some information so they can know how things are working. I’ve had people take responsiblity for errors that were being done by a poor performing employee beneath them and this act of “character” simply misled me, albeit unintentionally. We do a disservice to young people to stifle communication by telling them it is excuse making.

    Bosses should be looking for the root of the problem not simply someone to take the blame.

    • Art Petty August 9, 2012 at 8:58 am - Reply

      No need to cover it up, of course, but avoid throwing the other person under the bus. If it’s your team member on your watch, you own the issue…and the developmental follow-up to fix it. -Art

  4. Nicole Taylor August 9, 2012 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    A great article. One of the most defining moments of my career was when I learned how much anxiety could be mitigated by acknowledging mistakes, taking ownership, and moving forward with solutions.

    That is the only thing I would say is missing from this article: offering solutions. “I made a mistake, and this is how I will fix it” is empowering and proves to all those involved that you are reliable, and even if there is an issue, you are creative problem solver that will make things right.

    • Art Petty August 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm - Reply

      Excellent add, Nicole! Thanks, -Art

  5. karin hurt August 10, 2012 at 8:06 am - Reply

    Excellent post. When working with both new and seasoned leaders, it’s hard to think of too many things more important than failing elegantly. You might enjoy my recent writing on this as well.

    • Art Petty August 10, 2012 at 8:17 am - Reply

      Karin, thanks for the comment and the great resource! -Art

  6. […] New Leader Tuesday: A Mistake is a Horrible Thing to Waste […]

  7. […] challenges of a leader is to figure out a way to help people make that connection.”2. New Leader Tuesday: A Mistake is a Horrible Thing to Waste. “How you choose to deal with your mistakes will help determine people’s […]

  8. […] By Art Petty in Management Excellence by Art Petty Blog   Article […]

  9. Tash Hughes August 27, 2012 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the great tips, Art. I totally agree that you share the praise and wear the faults as a good leader – you go back and deal with the person who may have made a mistake but don’t blame them as the whole problem.

    The journal idea is interesting – I’ve never thought of that. But I can see a log of decisions could be a great tool for recognising patterns and developing skills as required. Probably a great thing to teach new managers in a workplace.

    • Art Petty August 28, 2012 at 5:48 am - Reply

      Thanks, Tash! The journal can be a great self-development/reflection tool. -Art

  10. […] leur sens des responsabilités. Pour cette raison, il est important d’adopter la bonne attitude. Sur son blog consacré au management, le cabinet de consultants Art Petty donne 6 conseils aux respo… : 1/ Entraînez-vous à dire : « j’ai eu tort ». Ce ne sont pas forcément les mots les […]

  11. […] Made a mistake? Show strength by admitting it and apologizing. […]

  12. […] Art Petty shares tips to deal with your mistakes providing a great reminder on a number of levels. Most of all, he advises, rightly so, how you handle your mistakes is a great sign of your leadership abilities. […]

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