6 Ways Great IT leaders Get Over Their Mistakes

Employee working with headset in office callcenter

It’s Tuesday afternoon. Since yesterday, your suspicion has grown into a certainty. You’re dealing with a major mess. People are complaining about a serious problem in IT. They can’t get work done. Your staff tells you they know about the situation, but they don’t have any way to fix it. Another suspicion is rapidly growing in your mind: you screwed up. You have to fix some bad decisions. You’re thinking that everyone is going to blame you, and your career is in ruins.

Don’t despair. If you handle the crisis properly, you can not only avoid damage but end up in better shape than ever. There’s no such thing as a manager who never messes up, but managers who deal well with their mistakes are a valuable asset. Follow this six-step plan, and you’ll earn a net gain in trust.

  1. Own Your Mistakes Completely

When things are going wrong, your natural impulse is to think of ways it was someone else’s fault. No doubt other people could have done things better, but shifting the blame won’t fix the problem. Even if your mistake was only half the problem, don’t half admit it. Just admit it.

To avoid the blame-shifting impulse, imagine yourself as a higher-level manager with psychic powers, who knows everything that happened and is completely fair. Think of how that manager would assess the situation. Would someone in that situation say you contributed to the problem? Then admit it. Don’t hedge and evade.

How will people react to your admission? You might be pleasantly surprised. Admitting openly to mistakes is so rare that they won’t know what to do with the pile of anger they were ready to unleash. They’ll be relieved that you aren’t looking for a scapegoat. They’ll think that you might be prepared to approach the problem constructively.

Which, of course, you are.

  1. Guide Others Using Your Own Failures

“Oh, no! Not another learning experience!” Failure is a learning tool, but people hate to learn from their failures. Admitting a mistake lets employees and colleagues learn from your failures. They may have followed your advice too well. They may have misunderstood it. You may all have had the same blind spot.

Talk with the other people about what went wrong and why. Now that you’ve admitted your error, you don’t have to dwell on it. Deal objectively with what went wrong, and suggest or ask for ways to avoid repeating the mistake. Maybe communication was poor. A different process might have avoided the mess.

The discussion should give everyone involved a better understanding of the problem. If a similar situation arises again, they’ll know how to handle it so it doesn’t become a major problem.

  1. Learn From Your Mistakes

Naturally, your mistakes are a learning tool for you, too. “Learn from mistakes” is easy to say, but how do you do it? Once again, stepping back and looking at the issue objectively is a huge help. Put it in terms of three key questions:

  • What was I trying to do?
  • What action did I take to make it happen?
  • How did the results not match my expectations?

The problem could have come in at any of these steps. Maybe what you were attempting didn’t make sense. Maybe you chose the wrong way to do it. Or maybe things went off course and you didn’t catch the problem.

Think of a decision as simple as getting to a place and the ways it can go wrong. The trip might be a bad idea. You might take the wrong road. You might need to detour because of construction and get hopelessly lost. Identifying the mistake gets you most of the way toward identifying the fix.

  1. Tell Them How You Plan to Fix the Problem

If you’ve reached this point, you’ve made great progress. You’ve admitted the mistake and not been killed for it. You’ve identified what went wrong and talked with key people about how to avoid it in the future. Now it’s time to get down to specific actions to fix it.

Don’t be afraid to ask, “How can we get out of this mess?” We usually make mistakes in areas where we aren’t strongest, and someone else may have a better insight into the solution. At the same time, fixing your mistake is your responsibility. Whatever input you get, you have to decide on the actions that will straighten things out.

There are two aspects to this. First, there are short-term actions to minimize the impact of the error, so that business can get back on course. Then there are more permanent corrections. The latter may include some painful choices. Think carefully about them before making a proposal. Be ready to accept alternatives that could work better.

  1. Set an Example

Now you’re in really good shape. You’ve identified the problem, admitted your responsibility, and taken concrete steps to fix it. Now follow through with everything that needs doing.

You might feel frustrated that others hid behind your acceptance of responsibility. But if you handled the situation well, you’ve improved the chances that others will admit and deal with their mistakes in the future.

They’ll see that it wasn’t the end of the world when you admitted you messed up. They’ll know you don’t think you’re infallible. This will make them feel safer about acknowledging their mistakes. Dealing well with the situation helps to build a culture of trust, where people can admit they’ve made an error and deal with it openly.

  1. Disclose it Quickly

This isn’t really a separate step, but it’s part of everything we’ve talked about so far. The faster you deal with a problem you created, the less damage it will do. Don’t be recklessly hasty, but avoid procrastination. This is especially important in recognizing the existence of a problem and admitting your error played a role. Get past that part, and then you can head off consequences that will make the situation worse.

Find More Ways IT Leaders Get Over Their Mistakes

In martial arts, the first thing you learn is how to fall and not get hurt. Management isn’t that different. Follow all these steps when you make a mistake, and you’ll be back on your feet quickly. You’ll earn respect and be seen as an even stronger leader than before.

For more ideas on saving time and money in your IT department, visit Zeriva’s IT tips.


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