Dan called me the other day, frantic about a project scheduled for delivery to a key client at the end of the week. His project team was at least two days behind the timeline. As the project stood, Dan now realized his scheduling approach for the final week of the project was overly ambitious. He was unsure how to position the delay with the client while also balancing resources internally to ensure a quality delivery. Dan felt panicked and insecure, not only about how the remainder of the week would play out but about the future of the client relationship. He was also frozen and unsure of how to share the news with his boss.
As you take on positions of increasing responsibility, it’s inevitable you’ll make a sizable mistake at work. Whether it’s delivering a key initiative late, costing the company more money than forecasted, or making what seemed to be a “no-brainer” decision that went later haywire, mistakes happen. The good news is that your boss isn’t expecting your scorecard to be “mistake-free” and isn’t judging your performance on that factor. What he or she is looking for is how well you led through the mistake and recovered.
When a mistake happens, your boss is expecting to see from you:
- Immediate and urgent, yet panic-free, escalation of the issue.
- Sound and concise synopsis of the issue and clarity on where it went astray.
- Solid recommendation(s) to correct the issue and mitigate additional damage.
- Request for your boss’s advice and insight.
- Openness to your boss’s in-the-moment feedback for you, no matter how good or bad.
- Ability to immediately incorporate your boss’s direction into the resolution plan.
- Ready desire from you to own the issue through resolution.
- Excellent leadership from you throughout the process until the issue is resolved.
- Recognition, upon conclusion of the issue, of what you will do differently next time to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
- Ability to shake off the mistake and confidently move on.
From your boss’s perspective, the existence of (or lack of) mistakes isn’t where they place their focus. What they’re watching is how well you lead and carry yourself through crisis. Perfection isn’t expected. Growth and leadership are.
– Jackie Simon