Newsflash: all good leaders make mistakes. A great number of them. Everyday. After all, there are people involved, and this would be really easy without the people.

Fortunately, people are all that we have. The true test of your leadership character isn’t measured by the number of mistakes you make, but rather, by what you do moving forward once a mistake is recognized.  You have a few choices: ignore it, deflect it or tackle it head-on in front of everyone and kick it in the teeth. With all due respect to my dental friends, I opt for the latter.

8 Ideas for Navigating Your Leadership Mistakes

1. Admit the mistake. Quickly. While speed kills in most situations, it’s your friend here. Get out in front of the mistake immediately.
2. Resist your natural reflex urge to make excuses. Blaming the weather, competitors, the market, sunspots, lack of resources or anyone else on your team is only going to exponentially compound the damage to your leadership credibility.
3. Describe the architecture of your strategic mistakes and missteps. These are learning opportunities for everyone ... not just for you. What were your assumptions? What data did you rely upon? How did you frame the issue? This re-evaluation is mental fitness for strengthening future decision-making.
4. Apologize. Too many leaders equate an apology with a sign of weakness. To the contrary, it takes genuine strength to look at an employee in the eyes and admit you were wrong and apologize. (Note the two parts…an admission and the act of apologizing!)
5. Don’t wallow in your mistakes. If you’ve executed on numbers 1-4 above, everyone else is moving on and so should you. Translation: once you’ve processed on the issue and captured the lesson learned, let it go!
6. Accept that you can’t fix people ... but you can fix talent selection mistakes. Talent selection mistakes are some of the toughest leaders face. We all make them…but the best leaders strive to minimize these issues on both sides of the decision. Improving your pre-hire assessment skills is critical. And so is recognizing and dealing with a selection mistake quickly, fairly and with full transparency. This is too important to do anything less.
7. Seek out and stomp out chronic mistakes. The chronic ones tend to be communication, interpersonal or commitment blunders. From our annoying quirks ... looking at our e-mail during a team member’s status meeting to giving short shrift to someone who is obviously seeking help, or, worse yet, committing do doing something and then failing to do it, those are visible, measurable and curable. The key to success: you’ve got to want to learn about these habits and you have to be willing to hold yourself accountable to improving.
8. Accept the implications of your mistakes. If you can’t handle the accountability heat, get out of the leadership kitchen. It’s part of the job.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Good leaders make new mistakes all of the time. It’s the old ones that they face-up to, address and learn from that prepare them for those yet to come.

This blog originally appeared at

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