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Don’t Panic! 5 Things To Do When You’ve Screwed Up

Don’t Panic! 5 Things To Do When You’ve Screwed Up

Mistakes. We’ve all certainly made a few in our time, and the idea of committing them is never a pleasant concept. The point is that we often screw up — sometimes badly. Maybe you said the wrong thing in the heat of the moment, or did something you never would have if not for your emotional state. We’ve all been there, and it’s agonizing. The key, really, is figuring out what to do after the deed.

It’s not the end of the world if you’ve behaved badly, but you will you be treated and judged by how you handle the aftermath. If you’ve messed up at work or dropped a bit of a misfire in the home realm, then check out this quick-fire guide to five of the best things to do when you’ve screwed up.

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1. Apologize immediately.

Saying “sorry” really is the best policy when it comes to committing a screw-up of any magnitude. Staying indifferent is insulting and implies that you don’t even care, which comes across as deeply rude. Therefore, you should apologize immediately to the parties concerned.

You might have to eat a bit of humble pie at one point or another, but that’s the price that comes with being less than perfect. Choosing to select the more honorable route and apologize for your mistakes might be more awkward than burying your head in the sand and walking away, but it will also earn you respect, friends, forgiveness, and self-esteem. So when you’ve screwed up, apologize sincerely, and get right back to work.

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2. Get some perspective and a reality check.

One of the most important things to do when you’ve screwed up is to take a step back and gain some perspective and/or a reality check on the situation. Hopefully, the situation you’ve just instigated isn’t too serious (i.e. something that will result in a stint in criminal court or your family never speaking to you again), and if so, it helps to try to logically and objectively evaluate what you’ve done.

If your screw-up is fixable, that’s something to be grateful for. And while it might have an effect on the people you care about or work with or spend time with, you can probably resolve this problem. Chances are you haven’t killed anyone, ruined anyone’s life, or caused anyone major distress. As the great philosopher Cicero said, “Dum spiro spero” which means, “While I breathe, I hope.”

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3. Make sure it doesn’t happen again by crafting a plan.

It’s okay to make mistakes; everyone screws up once in a while (yes, even that picture-perfect, sweet-as-pie girl in the office or that immaculately put-together guy down the street). The point is that screwing up is inevitable, but it’s what we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again that really matters in the long term. Basically? Make a plan.

Decide exactly what you did wrong, and really think about what you can do in the future to help prevent that from happening again. Learn something, remember something, put something into place — make a concerted effort. After you’ve sorted your plan out, go to the person who you offended or affected with your screw-up, tell them what you’re going to do to prevent it from ever happening again, and then let the chips fall where they may. It’s human to make mistakes, but what makes you a great person is how you recover from them and ensure that you never hurt the same person like that again.

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4. Take a break.

One of the best things to do is to get yourself out of the environment in which the mistake occurred, to stop your mind from dwelling on the situation. Staying in that immediate environment and muling over the mistake you made is only going to cause you to lose your focus, drop your ability to work and live in that situation, and end up in a shame spiral.

Go and take a breather; get yourself out of that office, or home, or wherever, and take a walk somewhere. Get yourself out of that negative headspace that will continue to haunt your mind and affect your ability to be a normal, functioning human being. Take a solid 15 minutes to gather your energy and strengths, and make your plan.

5. Be kind to yourself.

Finally, practice a bit of self-compassion following a moment of guilt and sadness over a mistake. In a world where we’re expected to be flawless human beings with physical perfection and ideal lives, the idea of screwing up seems almost horrific. It isn’t. You’re human. It’s okay to mess up.

Don’t go beating yourself up, and and don’t dwell on your mistake to the point of it having a detrimental effect on your mental health or your ability to be yourself around friends, coworkers, and loved ones. They’re human too, and the vast majority of people will readily help you recover and allow you to sincerely apologize. Take a deep breath, try to calm yourself down, and remember that it isn’t the end of the world. You can always start again, and when your head hits the pillow, just remember Scarlett O’Hara’s classic, life-affirming adage, “After all… tomorrow’s another day!”

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Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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Last Updated on October 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

“While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

4. Good leaders are students.

In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

“As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

6. Good leaders understand themselves.

I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

Final Thoughts

Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
[2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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