Don’t touch the brakes!

I may have been driving a little too fast but the snow wasn’t coming down too hard. Then I hit the bridge section, lost traction and started sliding. I had made a mistake and was heading for a crash. Luckily my dad had taught me how to not overreact and what to do when sliding on ice. Don’t touch the brakes, steer into the slide and accelerate a little to maintain traction. My heart was racing but I straightened out and avoided a crash. As a leader, how you react to mistakes is also a crucial skill to learn.

As they say, mistakes will happen and your response to your own mistakes and the mistakes made by your team will either help build trust or slowly chip away at your integrity. It is easy to list what not to do – (Don’t touch these brakes):

  • Ignore
  • Blame
  • Point fingers
  • Deny
  • Deflect
  • Minimize
  • Rationalize
  • Overreact

More difficult is to steer into the mistake. Based on my own experience, and a few ideas from Kristen Beireis, a coach who specializes in trust-building, the following actions can help you avoid turning a mistake into a crash.

  1. Acknowledge it or admit it – as hard as it may be this is the starting point to correcting any mistake.
  2. Offer to fix or make good – it may cost you money or time or prestige but often a simple offer to honor or fix a mistake will go miles.
  3. Support your people and help them find a solution – resist searching for the cause immediately and support your people and encourage them to focus on first correcting the mistake. You can work together later to search for causes.
  4. Follow through – demonstrating commitment and follow-through is crucial after any mistake. People will accept an earnest correction but will be skeptical if they don’t see true follow-through.
  5. Learn from the mistake – adopt the mindset of a scientist and use the mistake as a learning opportunity to make an improvement or minimize the chance of a similar mistake.

It is human nature to slam on your brakes and make a mistake worse. Responding with intention can help you recover and demonstrate integrity.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

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