Medium Size Mistakes
This week I made a mistake. Not the kind of mistake you make when you accidently wear mismatched socks, or you spill your morning coffee before an important meeting. This would be considered a medium size mistake at work. The kind of mistake you are embarrassed to talk about, but not big enough to get fired. Everyone makes mistakes, but when you make the mistake it can derail your confidence and effect your mindset.
During the Monday morning weekly staff meeting, I asked a question to clarify a statement that was made and my mistake was clear as a sunny day. I felt instant tension during the long pause after I admitted openly, I had made a mistake. My only saving grave is that I was at the meeting virtually and had my camera off to hide my sweaty palms and nervously tapping of my pen. Once it sunk in to those participating in the meeting I saw swift, sensible leadership take place and here are three lessons I learned from the experience.
1. Address it directly
One of the most admirable acts I experienced was how it was dealt with head on and directly. There wasn’t ambiguity about next steps. Although it was dealt with openly during a staff meeting, it was addressed swiftly and directly. It was still an uncomfortable situation. There was clear tension, and everyone knew the gravity of the situation. As professional adults, there was no name calling, throwing under the bus or passive aggressive behavior, which could have been experienced and was a risk you take when you become vulnerable and admit your mistakes in a room full of people.
I really appreciated that the situation didn’t drag out longer than it did. I could sense frustration in the voices of the director and supervisor. That’s who really had to deal with the consequences before their boss and I already knew that whatever “brownie points” I had saved away for a rainy day was going to be depleted with this incident. The discovery of the mistake was the most painful. There was no other choice for me, but to live through it. I faced it head on and prepared for the consequences. When faced with a challenge face it head on. Own your actions and take accountability. We don’t see that enough in the workplace and in life and we would be better for it. So would our teams. It helps build trust knowing each team member will help carry the load. The reality is that everyone actually does make mistakes and this was just my turn to experience and learn from it.
2. Damage Control
I went into swift action identifying, implementing and clearly affirming next steps to ensure I was doing everything in my power to help control the damage of my mistake. Within 24 hours, emails were sent, phone calls were made and a clear plan was identified to explain how this would never occur again.
For my director’s role, he came into my office the next day and called out the “elephant in the room”. He said that we were a team and we sink and rise together. He said he didn’t need to “beat me up” about it because he could tell I was already taking it seriously. He said he wasn’t holding on to anything and that he was ready to move on and that we would get through it as a team. I felt an immense sense of relief. I was worried about how my mistake would reflect not only on me, but also him and the department, as a whole. I felt reassured I wasn’t going through the experience alone and it made me feel stronger in my conviction to never make the same mistake again.
3. Moving On
I could have held onto the weight of the stress of making the mistake and let it dim my light the rest of the week, but that’s when my resiliency muscle kicked in. Building my confidence back to the level before I made the mistake will take some time but the longer I keep ruminating on what I did the longer bouncing back will take. I have high standards for myself. I have a strong work ethic, but the downside is that I am also my worst critic. Resiliency is about letting things bounce off of you, but it requires that you are accountable for your actions, accept responsibility and know full well that the mistake is something you did but not who you are. You are not your mistakes. Who you are is how you choose to carry yourself in the face of adversity and in uncomfortable situations.