Clean up your mistakes – why it’s important & how to do it properly

Clean up your mistakes, especially if you’re the boss. If you can admit to your mistakes, accept the consequences and move on, you’re far more likely keep your good reputation. Here are 7 things you need to know in order to do it properly.

Admitting to your mistakes is often seen as a weakness when in fact, it takes courage, character and integrity.

OK, so you’ve messed up. You lost an important business client. Perhaps you sent a confidential email to the wrong recipient or used the wrong choice of words in an email. Whatever the situation, someone trusted you to do the job and you failed. It’s easily done – so what do you do now?

It’s tempting to duck responsibility and blame others, or external circumstances. But is that really the easy way out? Will this be the lie that eventually causes you to lie again and again?

There is always another option: admitting to the mistake, reflecting on it, and ensuring that it does not happen again. Part of cleaning up your mistakes involves facing up to the consequences – apologising to the person you hurt, paying the money back, enduring the embarrassment.

Realistically there are consequences either way. Mistakes and foul-ups don’t go away by themselves. Someone always has to deal with them and take the consequences. If you dodge the bullet, you lose the trust of the people around you, and other people clean up your mess. And every time you sweep your mess under the carpet, a little bit of the true you disappears. You can’t hold your head high if you are constantly on your guard that people might find out your guilty secrets.

Here are 7 pointers on dealing with mistakes:

  1. See things from the other’s perspective: If you’ve made a promise and failed to keep it, put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? And what action would satisfy you?
  2. Be sympathetic: Realise that your mistakes might affect others, and recognise the pain you’ve caused. A bit of (genuine) empathy goes a long way.
  3. Take responsibility: Don’t try to weasel out of it, and don’t look around for someone else to blame. Even if you failed because someone let you down, you can ultimately choose to accept responsibility.
  4. Accept the consequences: It’s hard, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet. Few actions come without any consequences at all; be prepared to embrace whatever happens to you as a result of the mistakes you’ve made.
  5. Have a plan: Taking responsibility means being prepared to clean up the mess; you’ll need a plan. You should have a clear idea of what went wrong and how you can fix it — and how you can avoid it in the future.
  6. Be sincere: Don’t pretend to feel sympathy so that the other person can see how deeply you care. Don’t play the martyr. Show honest emotion — the first step to rebuilding the trust you’ve lost.
  7. Apologise. No, really. A lot of people go to great lengths to make up for their mistakes — or to hide them — when a simple “I’m sorry” would do the job, and cause fewer hard feelings.

None of these guarantees that your job or relationships will still be intact after admitting a mistake. But at least you will come out with your dignity and your head held high. You’ll know that you have done the best you can to resolve the issue. And you’ll know that you have nothing to hide – you can continue on your way with a clear conscience.

If you’d like to understand more about the importance of your accountability as a leader, read our previous blog post here.

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