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Coming Back From Mistakes & Bad Decisions


It’s too bad if circumstances were against you, or somebody you counted on failed you, or you just had a bad day. This is life. Unfortunately, for many people this is normal. According to Justin Menkes’ interesting book Better Under Pressure, truly great leaders don’t blame others when things go wrong. They instead have a high “sense of agency,” which is “the degree to which people attribute their circumstances and the outcomes they experience to being within their own control.” We all make mistakes. Over the course of your professional life, you can count on making a few bad career choices. It comes with the territory. Still, those mistakes can really drag you down. And recovering from them is definitely not a trivial matter, as I know all too well. There's nothing worse than failing by your own hand, your own hubris, your own stupidity.


Jazz great Miles Davis once said, "When you hit a wrong note, it's the next note that makes it good or bad." To this day, I marvel at the wisdom behind that simple notion. If you just add a little self-confidence and courage, it's all you need to recover from even the worst blunders, career or otherwise. If you systematically reflect on mistakes, you will realize there are patterns in your performance that contribute to these errors. And once you realize that, you are well on the way to fixing that pattern.


Reflect on the mistake that you made. Think about what caused it, and what you did that contributed to the situation. You can’t learn anything from external factors, so forget about them. What can you do differently? This may be easier to do when some time has passed, especially if the mistake and its aftermath were particularly painful or embarrassing.  Everything is temporary, including the aftermath of the mistake you are living with right now. Is there a lesson you can learn from this? If so, focus on that. This will help you avoid similar mistakes in the future. And who knows, perhaps someday you will look back and laugh on this situation.


When you’ve made a mistake and or done something that you regret. It is not quite beneficial to keep it all in. Don’t try and be a quiet fixer. Mistakes often have side effects, and pretending that it didn’t happen is dangerous. Former Toyota chairman Katsuaki Watanabe stated, “Hidden problems are the ones that become serious threats eventually.” You have to apologize to everyone that is affected by your mistake. Make it a real apology, such as: “I’m sorry I caused __________. Or I’m sorry for_________, because.......). Not something lame and self-protective, such as: “I wish it hadn’t happened”.


Mistakes often have side effects, and pretending that it didn’t happen is dangerous. Former Toyota chairman Katsuaki Watanabe stated, “Hidden problems are the ones that become serious threats eventually. If problems are revealed for everyone to see, I will feel reassured. Because once problems have been visualized, even if our people didn’t notice them earlier, they will rack their brains to find solutions to them.” If you systematically reflect on mistakes, you will realize there are patterns in your performance that contribute to these errors. And once you realize that, you are well on the way to fixing that pattern. It does no good to dwell on your mistakes, which can lead to doubting your competence. "This type of thinking is actually self-destructive and only serves to hamper future effectiveness," says Liz Bywater, president of Bywater Consulting Group, a Philadelphia-based firm focused on optimizing organizational performance. "Remember: Failure is not in the falling down but in the staying down." You've apologized. You've taken your lumps. You've analyzed where you went wrong. Now, it's time to move on. Don't raise the topic of your mistake again.


Dwelling on your mistake will only leave you feeling depressed and helpless, which will not help you move forward. Give yourself permission to take your mind off it. Get lost in interesting articles on the Internet. Crank up your stereo and belt out words to your favorite song. Watch a favorite movie. Take deep breaths. Focus on the things you are most grateful for, whether they’re your children, your house, or the food you eat. It is extremely difficult to be grateful for something and feel angry or down on yourself at the same time. Replace your self-pitying thoughts with ones of gratitude and feel the joy that comes washing over you.


“Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.” – Tyron Edwards

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