The Best Way To Handle Making A Mistake



This past Saturday, my wife Mary and I went out for dinner with another couple (Mike and Liz) at a local Italian restaurant.After sharing an appetizer of Gorgonzola Garlic Bread, we waited for our entrees to arrive.Mary and Liz had both ordered the Beet Salad.

Mike had ordered Eggplant Parmesan.

I’d ordered Pan-Seared Salmon.Our waitress brought out the salads and the eggplant.  After putting the dishes on the table, she turned to me and said.

Your salmon is going to take a little while.  I forgot to put the order in.It’s totally my fault.  What can I do to make you comfortable while you’re waiting?  Would you like a house salad while you wait?

I told her the salad would do nicely, thank you.  She continued:I’d like to buy you dessert as well.  I’m sorry to have to make you wait.  I was impressed.  Her candor was quick and to the point.   She was completely transparent.Here was someone who fully owned her action.  She’d screwed up, and was now proactively addressing the issue.  In addition, she was keenly aware of the impact her mistake created, and she took ownership to manage the impact  as best as she could.

How refreshing!  How nice to work with someone who didn’t fall trap to the “mistakes were made” school of behavior.In life, stuff happens.  Mistakes do get made:  by me, by you, by everybody.  How we handle those mistakes is what separates the amateurs from the pros.

The concept of ‘ownership’ is getting a lot of traction in leadership circles these days.   Last week, I worked with the leadership team at a major retailer, working with them to create a performance culture of ‘ownership’.

One of the challenges they face to create this culture of ownership is their inherited history.  In the past, when people candidly owned up to making mistakes, they were seriously dinged for it.   So people got very good at shifting blame and passing the buck.  The current leadership is going to have to work hard to shift the status quo belief about how the organization ‘finds fault’.

As leaders, how do you model dealing with mistakes?  What would it look like for you to create a culture of a candor?  One where people felt safe to speak up?  One where people had the latitude and authority to make things right when they did so?

How does your organization treat people who make mistakes?  

What best practices do you have to pass on?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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