The biggest mistake I ever made at work was planning a client lunch in San Francisco for my boss who was the CEO of a Fortune 100 company in Minneapolis. We expected hundreds of clients to attend. I depended on the financial planners in San Fran to recruit their clients. I called repeatedly to check in with them, but on the day of the lunch, there were only 10 clients and lots of planners interested in a free lunch on hand. As we walked out of the restaurant, my boss told me: “That won’t happen again.”
Obviously, I said I was sorry, but learning from our mistakes is key, and my boss assumed that I would. After being in management myself for the past 30 years, I realize that it’s a manager’s job to help their employees avoid mistakes, provide a safe atmosphere in which to admit mistakes and help employees learn from mistakes by providing some coaching on how to get better outcomes.
You don’t have to be perfect
While teaching at the University of Minnesota, I asked my students to communicate when they were going to be late with an assignment or absent. Too late in life, I discovered that you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to communicate when things go awry or when you can’t do what you promised to do.
I do my best to avoid mistakes, but when they happen, no matter how embarrassing or painful it is, I fess up and tell whomever it is, boss or subordinate, that I’m sorry. It’s the right thing to do and good modeling for students and employees.
Admit your error ASAP
It’s tempting to lie or point fingers, but neither reflects well on the one who has made the dreaded mistake. It’s best to get the admission or a mistake over ASAP, so it can be corrected, and so that you can quit worrying about it.
If you do good work most of the time, you’ll be remembered for that – not the few times that you screwed up. So on behalf of all of us who make mistakes at work, whether you’re the mistaken or the one affected, be as gracious as you can be.
If a mistake is rare, try to help correct it. If it’s one of many, the mistake maker may not be right for the job or may not be getting the coaching he or she needs. Mistakes are a part of life, especially for those who work regularly out of their comfort zones.
And after all, we are only human.