Of course, mistakes are important. Two facts put those you make in
perspective. One, everyone who plays the game makes mistakes. Two,
that you make mistakes is not nearly as important as what you do about
That's hard to remember when you are wallowing in the bed of regret,
second-guessing and even being eaten alive by fear that usually follows
on the heels of a mistake.
Nevertheless, it is true. "The way you follow up on the errors you make
has a greater impact on the future of your career than what you did or
didn't do wrong," according to Ramon Greenwood, head of
It is worthwhile to restate the axiom that everyone who is out there
making an effort to get things done makes mistakes.
Carly Fiorini refused to delegate authority and tone down her style while
she traipsed around the world like a jet-set celebrity. She made the
mistake of defying her board of directors at Hewlett-Packard when they
asked her to change her ways and she got booted out as CEO.
Kodak lost its market dominance when it failed to anticipate the success
On the other hand, Coca-Cola made a major miscalculation when it
decided the world needed a new flavor of its favorite beverage. When
the market said, "You made a mistake" the company quickly turned its
back on "New Coke." Ford Motor Company pulled off a "Lulu" by
producing a dud, the Edsel automobile. It lost no time in dumping the
mistake when buyers turned thumbs down.
So, mistakes are bound to occur, even among the best of us.
TURN MISTAKES INTO LEARNNG EXPERIENCES
"Smart careerists learn early in the race to capitalize on mistakes by
turning them into learning experiences," says Greenwood.
When he was chairman of Quaker Oats Company, William Smithburg
declared, "There isn't one senior manager in this company who hasn't
been associated with a product that failed, or some project that failed.
That includes me. It's like learning to ski. If you're not falling down,
you're not learning."
The next time you make a mistake, keep in mind the following nine steps
that achievers take when they goof up.
1. Don't panic. Follow the admonition of the television commercial,
"Never Let Them See You Sweat."
2. Stop long enough to clear your head. Then act pronto.
3. Get the facts so you can define the mistake.
4. Answer these questions. What is the worst thing that can happen?
The best outcome? Will the mistake really make any difference one
week, one year, five years later?
5. Report the mistake to the boss immediately. It is far better for you to
tell him about your mistake than to have it come from others. Help the
boss keep it in perspective. A Confucian proverb advises, "Be not
ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes."
Let the boss and your colleagues know you regret the error. Nothing is
likely to infuriate your supervisor and colleagues more than your
appearing not to care when you make a mistake.
6. Accept the responsibility for your mistakes.
7. Feel the pain and mourn a little, but for only a little while. You will feel
8. Perform a post-mortem. Look at the facts. How can a repeat
performance be avoided? What did you learn from the experience?
9. Forget the mistake; give it a decent burial, but remember the lessons
Remember, the only truly unforgivable mistake is to repeat a mistake.
Former Senior VP of American Express; professional director, American
Express International, financial institutions and consumer goods
companies; Senior Careet Counselor, CommonSenseAtWork.com., and
consultant to a wide variety of businesses; author of four books
including How To Make The World of Work Work For You and a
syndicated column, Common Sense At Work.