Despite your best intentions, despite your quest for excellence, despite being a person of character there are going to be times where things don’t go as you planned. Things change unexpectedly, people you are counting on don’t do what they said they would do, or it just plain gets messed up. It is going to happen to every one of us. The question is what do we do when it happens? How we respond is more important then what happened. Many times we choose to respond with blame, denial, avoidance ( also called head in sand ). Why do we do that? Our society has created a culture of being scared to make mistakes. In some of us that fear is deep rooted that we won’t even take enough action to make a mistake. Its amazing to watch children trying new things. They have no thoughts about making mistakes accept, “Hey mom, did you see that?” But it doesn’t take long for them to start picking up the fear of mistakes. Thank goodness people like Thomas Edison didn’t feel that way. Many sources quote different numbers, but let’s just say it took him 1,000 attempts to create the lightbulb. If he hadn’t persisted I would be doing this blog with smoke signals. Failure is always part of the process of success but we should learn from Edison when he said, “I have not failed. I have just found 999 ways that won’t work.” Luckily, most of us have a mentor, which means we don’t have to learn from trial and error, like Edison. We can learn from other peoples experience. With all that said, what I want to focus on is, what we do when we make a mistake that affects others.
The most important thought to begin with is you can actually gain credibility by making and owning up to a mistake. Its amazing how counterintuitive, in todays culture, it seems to own up to a mistake. The book “Credibility” gives a real world example.
Pradeep Vaswani, project manager at Infosys Technologies, recalled a time when his team went off course and as a result would fail to deliver on time to the client. His managers had advised him that he shouldn’t disclose this in advance to the client, but should merely work overtime to catch up. However, Pradeep knew that keeping this secret would result in a breach of trust with his client if the matter went out of control. Furthermore, he was unwilling to set such a poor example to his staff. Consequently, Pradeep accepted the responsibility for informing the client about the projects status. The client was upset, but Pradeep also told them how sorry and disappointed he and his team were about missing the deadline. He had explained what had caused the delay and what the team would do. He showed his commitment to the new deadline by indicating what he would do himself to ensure the new deliverables were met. The project was completed by the new deadline, and the amount of trust the client had for Pradeep actually increased tremendously. At the same time, the respect his team members had for him was enhanced because he accepted responsibility and showed accountability for the team without pointing fingers.
I think the reason someone owning up to mistakes is such a big deal is because it so rarely happens. The reason gold is so valuable is because it is so very rare. The same is true with human emotions. When we see someone display a trait that we rarely see, we naturally look at that person with more esteem. Studies have shown that “admitting mistakes” ranks second to “tells the truth” when people were asked what behaviors best define an honest person. So, here are the six A’s of accountability:
- Accept = come to recognize
- Admit = confess to be true or be the case
- Apologize = express regret for one has done wrong
- Act = take action
- Amend = make changes to make it correct
- Attend = be present, deal with it
“When” not “if ” you make a mistake, apply these six A’s and you will not only maintain your credibility but you will increase it.