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How to bounce back from workplace mistakes

June 11, 2009 17:01 IST
(Inset) Cover of the book CEO Material, by D A Benton.

"Am I really CEO material?"

Almost every top-notch executive or manager has asked himself or herself this question, along with several others, like: "Do my co-workers respect me?" "Am I smart enough to run a business?" "If I were CEO, would others follow me?"

In CEO Material: How to Be a Leader in Any Organization, noted author and executive coach D A Benton describes how to conduct oneself like a true executive.

For Benton, who has written for BusinessWeek, Fortune and The New York Times, the most important things an aspiring executive can remember are the '4 Cs': Confidence, Constant Communication, Craftsmanship, Coworker Collaboration.

In CEO Material's Chapter 14, titled, 'You Are Willing to Make Mistakes", Benton explains that we all make mistakes, but it's our responses to said mistakes that separate true leaders from the rest of the pack.

An excerpt from the chapter begins on the next slide. Read on. . .

Excerpted from: CEO material: How to Be a Leader in Any Organization by D A Benton. Reproduced with permission from Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited. Price: Rs 395. Copyright 2009.

'Almost all mistakes are forgivable'

June 11, 2009 17:01 IST
Gold bullion coins pictured in the mint

Making mistakes proves that you're doing something. Good for you. Gain from them, apply what you learned, don't repeat them, and don't stop trying harder. Let others make mistakes too so that they can learn also.

Admit your mistakes and fix them

June 11, 2009 17:01 IST
Anil D Ambani

You'll learn more from one bad decision than all the good ones you'll ever make. One study found that you master the same from two mistakes that you acquire from 20 successes.

Now, this shouldn't be your primary method of acquiring knowledge, of course. Confident people see slip-ups as a badge of honour and admit mistakes right away. And they prefer to be around others who've survived misfortunes of their own.

Almost all mistakes are forgivable -- well, except things like the Exxon Valdez. Hopefully, yours are never at that level. There are degrees of mistakes. I'm writing about the everyday type we all make, not malfeasance.

Admit the Mistakes and Fix Them

Everyone makes mistakes; not everyone lives up to them. (It shows character either way you choose to take.) Embrace the mistake by privately analysing how it happened maybe even publicly explaining the circumstances. It's all about how you deal with it.

Apologise (if appropriate). Don't overapologise; it weakens you, displays insecurity, begs for affirmation and makes the other person compelled to make you feel good by saying, "Oh no, it's not that bad." Overdoing anything takes away its effectiveness and just gives your competitors something to rally around.

Recognise, correct and don't repeat. Talk about your mistakes in a free and open exchange to diminish any additional fallout.

If you make a mistake, don't make it permanent

June 11, 2009 17:01 IST
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison delivers the keynote address at the Oracle Open World conference in Los Angeles.

If you make a mistake, don't make it permanent. Fix it.

Privately analyse a mistake yourself to avoid repeating it: "What were the cycle of events that led up to it?" "Where did I fail to prepare?" "What ability/skill did I lack?" "When did I sense a problem?" "What did or didn't I do and should have?" "How will I handle this differently in the future?"

On the major networks, new series come out every fall. The industry standard is 10 failures for ever one success. So the network executives study the flop and ask, "Why did viewers not like...? Why did they like...? Why did we fail?"

View every mistake you make as a new adventure

June 11, 2009 17:01 IST
Sunil Bharti Mittal

Suzy Welch says that when she was the editor of the Harvard Business Review, every week every editor had to phone a subscriber who cancelled and find out why.

A Harvard Divinity School student who loudly booed at a President Bush speech and was arrested for disorderly conduct, jailed for the night and then fined, says, "If there's one thing I learned, it's that if you want to interrupt the president of the most powerful nation in the world while he's delivering his inaugural address, It's going to cost you about $25."

View every mistake you make as a new adventure. Then fix it. All people make mistakes. The good leader knows when he or she is wrong and immediately repairs the damage.

One CEO told me that "a rant from a customer was a gift from God because it made me aware and motivated me to do something about it quickly."

Your mistake is a failure if you don't understand how and why it happened and what to do about it. Console yourself that the compensation for an error is education.

Failure is almost always temporary. Tomorrow is a new day.

June 11, 2009 17:01 IST

Keep going

After you've learned what you can from your mistake, forget the mistake, but remember the learning. Do the 'time' (hopefully not jail time) and even be willing to quit the job if it will help the situation.

Don't let a mistake affect you for the future -- only at this point in time. Be lightly and temporarily angry mainly at yourself. Within 24 hours, get back in the saddle in some productive, constructive and visible task.

When I asked one CEO about mistakes he's made, he paused and really struggled with an answer about whether he'd made any. "I'm sure I have, I guess. But I've never assessed it. I just keep moving. Now, as you get met thinking about it, things have gone wrong, like my intent not accomplished, cost overruns, projects not completed on schedule. But I just did my mea culpas, fessed up and made sure everyone knew I learned from it. I viewed it as an opportunity to build trust and confidence in my people by my willingness to improve from it."

Work so hard and courageously that it is inevitable that you'll make mistakes. Never hide them. Always admit, correct, fix and then keep going. Encourage others above, alongside and below you to do the same. This is how the entire organisations gets better and moves forward.

Excerpted from: CEO material: How to Be a Leader in Any Organization by D A Benton. Reproduced with permission from Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited. Price: Rs 395. Copyright 2009.