Business Today

Big slip-up at work?

Acknowledge your mistake, learn and don't let it hurt your confidence. When you acknowledge a mistake, you are also sending out a signal: Not only are you aware of what you did, but are also equipped to deal with it.

Saumya Bhattacharya | Print Edition: July 11, 2010

Last fortnight, at the much-awaited launch of Indus World School in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, things did not go exactly as planned. The team responsible for organising the event goofed up on two counts. One, it was behind schedule, and two, it faltered and overlooked a crucial section of the event. The gaffes were glaring and were causing irritation to the company leadership present at the event. At the postlaunch meeting of the company leadership, the team leader made a presentation on the event.

He not only listed the mistakes that the team made, but also specified his own bloopers to the company leadership. Did he do the right thing? "Mistakes are round the corner in an innovative environment," says Satya Narayanan R., Founder-Chairman, Career Launcher and Indus World School, who was present at the event. Given the fact that the mistake had happened, this is the best the team leader, who otherwise is competent, could have done to salvage the situation, he says.

People managers like Satya, as the training entrepreneur prefers being called, say that chances of making a mistake at work are very high. It's best to own it up and focus on the learnings out of that mistake. "This applies to both-a specific small mistake or a strategic mistake," he says. This kind of owning up also indicates that the culture of that organisation is open, and rewards humility and transparency.

When you acknowledge a mistake, you are also sending out a signal: Not only are you aware of what you did, but are also equipped to deal with it. "The team leader who goofed up is good leader material for the future simply because acknowledging one's mistakes needs a lot of adequacy," says Satya.

Harvard Business Review's Amy Gallo in her write-up You've Made a Mistake. Now What? has a word of advice from Christopher Gergen, Director (Entrepreneurial Leadership Initiative), Duke University, and coauthor of Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives. Says Gergen: "The most useful thing you can do is translate a mistake into a valuable moment of leadership."

Once you have acknowledged your mistake, explain to your boss and other interested parties how you will avoid making the same or a similar misstep in the future. You have to respond quickly before people make judgements about your competence or expertise, says Gallo. Also, make a concerted effort to avoid repeating the mistake. "A repeat of any mistake is close to unpardonable," says Satya.

And, while acknowledging your mistake, do not beat yourself up over it. If your morale has been dented, speak to a peer you trust or get a word of advice from a senior you look up to. This will give you a perspective on your mistake and whether you could have dealt with it differently. 


  • Accept responsibility. Tell your boss about your mistake immediately.
  • If the mistake affects your team or project, come up with a plan to salvage the situation.
  • Apologise, but do not berate yourself.
  • Work towards ensuring you can be trusted again.
  • Don't blame others when you are accountable.
  • Don't take flak where others have been at fault.
  • Don't stop taking the initiative just because you goofed up once.

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