How to bounce back from your worst mistake

Spoken | August 9, 2016

recovering from a mistakeMost of us don’t like making mistakes. It’s humiliating; we feel stupid; we look bad. We can even lose credibility with colleagues, customers, superiors, family or friends.

But errors are a part of life. We’re human, and failures happen, especially when we are brave enough to take risks. Every major entrepreneur has failed at at least one business. Still, that doesn’t mean that any of us want to be part of that business that fails.

So how does one bounce back after making a really big mistake? You know the kind–the ones that have huge, far-reaching effects, like the guy who incorrectly rerouted some network traffic on Amazon’s Web Services environment that caused an outage taking down the entire network for 24 hours. It was a big mistake, and it was a very public mistake, so therefore very embarrassing for him and far-reaching for Amazon.

That being said, the best widsom I’ve achieved in my 46 years on this planet has been garnered from mistakes, some of which were mere blips and others of which were life-changing doozies. Here’s my advice for dealing with epic fails:

How to bounce back from mistakes

  • Take responsibility In the words of former President Harry S. Truman, “the buck stops here.” He was the leader of the free world at the time, and he willingly took responsibility for his decisions, even the unpopular ones. The best politicians–and CEOs and customer service agents–take responsibility for their mistakes. Owning your error is the first step in recovering from it. Great leaders (and people for that matter) don’t blame others when things go wrong but rather embrace the mistake as a learning experience.
  • Fix it and share it If possible, take steps to fix the mistake. Send out the wrong price in a mass email? Send a contrite apology email with the right price. Kick a cord and cause a system outage? Work with IT to get the system back up and running. Then tell management, customers or the public what happened. In the tech world, we use a process called Root Cause Analysis. When something goes wrong, a group assembles to determine what happened, why and how to prevent it from happening again in a calm and methodical manner. Then everyone affected gets a copy of the RCA report. In business and in customer service, mistakes will always occur. It’s a matter of how you approach them that builds loits how we come back from the mistake that mattersyalty and respect.
  • Apologize All too many people and organizations believe that apologizing is a sign of weakness, which is where the ultimate non-apology “We regret any inconvenience this may have caused” came from. Take advantage of this opportunity for engagement with customers or mangement: issue a real apology that includes the word “sorry.” Speak from the heart, and never let the legal department write the apology for you. One of the best apology communications I ever got from a company was from a podcast hosting service, which read, “Oops. We goofed. Sorry about that.” It was a real, honest, human apology. I instantly forgave them and liked them better for it.
  • Learn from it When the embarrassment and emotions of the mistake lessen, find and embrace your takeaway as part of your personal or corporate identity. These life and business lessons make for some of the most powerful stories. Remember that Steve Jobs was fired from Apple–and then came back to lead the business to phenomenal market success. The best business leaders embrace mistakes as a path to growth.

Embracing failure as an opportunity for engagement and a path to future growth is essential to success. So don’t fear making mistakes–you will. Rather, embrace them as an opportunity to shine.

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