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Don't Be THAT CEO... Handle Your Mistakes The Right Way.

Have you ever made a mistake at work? Don’t answer that. We know the answer: it’s yes. If you’re human, you’ve made a mistake. And the higher you climb up the proverbial ladder to success, the more impactful your decisions are to you and the people around you. So, as a leader, how do you handle dropping the ball?

A vast majority of people in business leadership have an awful tendency to either hide their mistakes or to justify them. This is problematic because on the lower levels of employee, mistakes are all but broadcast and very often are punished.

What example do you set for the people that work for you if it seems like subordinate mistakes get chastised but mistakes in management get scuttled?

While no one wants to look like Michael Scott in front of people they need to make sure they get respect from, admitting to and acknowledging mistakes is extremely important, especially given that as a leader, your mistakes trickle down.

In a piece written for the Harvard Business Review, a former CEO described a scenario he was in, where he made a blatant error. His company acquired another that was struggling. His team had a choice: to spend hours and energy on retooling and reconfiguring the product that they acquired or try to roll it out to consumers as is.

Getting the product to work better would take a lot of time and a lot of money, so the CEO gambled a bit and decided to go with option number two - roll it out as is.

Big mistake. It was poorly received and left the CEO and his team with no choice but to go back to option A, but now well behind the eight ball.

Now consider if you were an employee at this business. The solution might have been clear as day to you from the start. Imagine your frustration at seeing your boss decide to make this seemingly short-sighted and incorrect choice, and then imagine how much more frustrated you’ll feel once you find out that you were right all along.

And not only were you right, but now you’ve got a lot of work to do under a lot of pressure through no fault of your own. You’ll probably resent the business and probably think the worst of your leadership.

You might assume incompetence, laziness, or overall poor judgement. Worse, you’ll probably lose respect for your leaders.

This is how good companies lose good employees, whether physically because they leave or psychologically, when they check out of being invested in their work.

How did this CEO respond? Well, most CEOs would lick their wounds in private and choose to put on a strong face in front of employees. This CEO did not.

He held meetings and was open and honest with employees about the rationale behind the decision; and he was honest about the fact that it was a costly mistake.

He apologized. The result? Employees rallied around him. They felt involved and despite the circumstances, committed to helping make it right. The CEO earned the trust and respect of his team in the face of a significant professional failure.

Be like this CEO. Own your mistakes, be honest, and explain yourself. Transparency earns trust and respect.

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