Hard-charging, success-focused business people are in a hurry. But even the most talented people, when they’re in a hurry, make mistakes. Often these mistakes don’t really matter but sometimes they just can’t be glossed over. Sometimes they are the kind of egregious blunders that threaten customer satisfaction, offend colleagues or torpedo promising careers.
How to respond? In politics, we often see politicians try to “ride out the storm”. Only occasionally does someone own up to a mistake and issue a sincere apology. Maybe this works in the impersonal, antagonistic world of mass-market politics, but in the intimacy of business and personal life it doesn’t cut it.
If you mess up, own up. Do it fast. And do it properly, with the correct level of contrition. Demonstrate that you’ve learned from your mistake and that you’ve grown.
Your colleagues can forgive an error in judgment. What they can’t forgive is dishonesty. So think twice before attempting to deny, shift blame or cover-up. You have a choice: try to save face by denying the problem or save your career by issuing a mea culpa and taking your lumps. What’s it going to be?
Every customer service manager knows that a well-handled problem can actually improve a client relationship. Similarly, a forthright admission of failure and a genuine attempt to atone for a mistake may actually increase your stature with the offended parties. Of course you can’t be a perennial screw-up and expect to get ahead – but if you are generally respected as a strong performer your colleagues will give you another chance.
Why would they do that? It’s because we all sometimes take risks in order to achieve our goals so we’re all just a misstep from embarrassment or disaster. No one’s perfect, so join the club. The entrance fee is just a little humility now and then, on your way to the top.