Misfortune - Flickr

“The timing of the product launch was poor. I told my team it should not be done that month,” stated Brad (the division president).

“Brad, don’t you lead that division? Based on what you just said in the last few minutes, there were at least two important factors for the product that were not considered. So, that strategy should never have been executed,” growled Don (the CEO).

As Don turned up the heat on Brad in the meeting, the rest of the executive team members became increasingly uncomfortable. A couple of them felt sorry for Brad, because they had personally experienced Don’s tough reinforcement of accountability. The remainder agreed with what Don said and started to have questions about Brad. Their doubt was partly due to the product decision Brad made. They found his deflection of Don’s points even more troubling.

If Brad continued to handle the situation in the same manner, he would hit a point of no return with Don and his executive team colleagues. Fortunately, he realized this and adjusted. How did he recover? He took three actions:

1) Own it. Brad recognized he was trying to explain away what had happened, and he was passing the buck. He ran the division. He approved the decisions that were made related to the product. Ultimately, he was accountable for how it performed. Once he admitted he was responsible for what had happened, Don started to decrease the heat on him.

2) Fix it. Owning the mistake was a good starting point, but Brad would be back on the grill very quickly if that was all he did. While he was in the meeting, he identified initial steps he would take to rectify the product situation. After the meeting, he followed up within a week to provide more details on the correction. Although Don was a primary concern, Brad believed it was just as important that his executive team colleagues have confidence in how he led his division and contributed to the top line and bottom line.

3) Learn from it. Brad knew correcting his error was not enough, because Don believed in lasting accountability. Specifically, Don could accept that Brad made a mistake, but he would show no mercy if it was repeated. Therefore, Brad took the time to ensure (as much as he could) the short-term and long-term impact of his solution was positive before he implemented it. After he deployed the solution, he regularly monitored progress to confirm it was effective.

With human error rates showing 1 error in 10 complicated, non-routine tasks, all of us are vulnerable to missteps. Whether missteps permanently damage your credibility depends on how you respond to them. Use the three preceding actions to protect your credibility.


Ryan Lahti is the managing principal of OrgLeader and author of The Finesse Factor: How to Build Exceptional Leaders in STEM Organizations being published in early 2019. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Misfortune, Flickr)