5 Actions To Take After a Huge Failure

by  Page Cole  |  Self Leadership

It’s out there… the headlines are printed, the paper is printed and the world is reading the news over morning coffee. Information once hidden is now fairly public. Someone has messed up and the consequences are splashed across the information landscape. The conversation might be as broad as the news media, or as narrow as the office gossip around the snack machine. So how do you react as a leader when this happens? OMG… how do you react as a leader when this happens and it’s YOU that messed up?

I’ve been there and done that. Before you start scanning this article for juicy details, this isn’t a “true confessions” post. I’m just a normal guy who has messed up before, sharing with some fellow travelers about his journey back from the Land of Stupid Choices. Whether you’re traveling the same road, or helping someone else navigate this trip, hopefully these suggestions can help.

Own It- Accept Responsibility

No one, I repeat NO ONE likes to hear blame and excuses. First and foremost, it’s critical for you to own your mistakes. No whining, no justification, no excuses, no rationalizing is beneficial, so don’t do it. You messed up. You chose and acted poorly. Jim Rohn says “You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself.” Admit it… it’s a cleansing that takes place when you are brave enough to be totally honest about the wrongness of your choices. It’s the best place to start changing yourself.

Fix It- Make Amends

It’s been said that you “can’t un-ring a bell”, and it’s true. What’s said is said and what’s done is done. But just feeling badly for the consequences of your failures isn’t the end of the process, it’s the beginning. The next step needs to be working towards reconciling your bad debt, and trying to fix what you broke. In AA, principle #9 acknowledges this crucial part of the process of making amends. It states, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” If there is a way to make amends, and it’s not going to cause greater damage, then the challenge is simple. Do it. Swallow your pride and do it.

Take It- The High Road is the Best Road

The “Road to Restoration” isn’t a paved road. It’s full of potential potholes. It’s lonely, isolated at times, and you may even wonder if you’re on the right road. One road sign to keep you on course is to ask yourself this key question- “Am I taking the high road, doing the honorable thing?” The “high road” was a term used to describe the road that was specifically built for and used by nobility. Built “higher” than the other roads, it gave the leaders a better perspective on the landscape. We need to step “above” the circumstances to see what is truly critical for restoration to take place. Pettiness, playing the blame game and attacking others is not healthy. It’s certainly not taking the high road. Be better than that… take the high road.

Expect It- Make a Plan for Next Time

Regardless of what your challenge or failure may have been, it’s likely that the opportunity for a similar situation will present itself again in your life. Set some controls in your life to protect yourself from making the same choices over and over. Find someone you trust to ask you hard questions from time to time. Learn the value of transparency. Ask yourself, “What’s my plan for next time this comes up?” If you don’t have a plan, then you’re vulnerable.

Know It- You’re Human

Many people fail to move past their mistakes and move forward with hope. It’s not because their boss won’t forgive, or their coworkers won’t forget. It’s because they refuse to move beyond their own failure. Call it a self-inflicted punishment or out of control regret. It’s futile and you’ll never move past it until you accept the fact that you are human. People make mistakes. So move on already! Thoreau said, “One cannot too soon forget his errors and misdemeanors; for to dwell upon them is to add to the offense.” Own your mistakes. Fix them where you can. Take the high road every time you can. Expect the same challenge again, so make a plan and be ready. And dude… give yourself a break. A comeback is possible in this “go away” world.

If you’ve been on this road before, what would you say to encourage someone else who is on it today?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By page-cole
I’m a dealer in hope… In my career, for seniors who want to stay safely in their own homes… in my family, that our best days are still yet to come… and in my sphere of influence, that we all have the ability to change our world, first and foremost by changing ourselves for the better!  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Shawn Murphy  |  28 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Hi Page,
These are good points and useful professionally or personally. What I like about your message is that relationships and introspection must be treated with great respect. Otherwise “you’re vulnerable” as you point out.


Page Cole  |  28 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the feedback Shawn! I have not only personally experienced these challenges, but over the years I’ve worked with lots and lots of people who are struggling through the process of working past a significant failure or shortcoming in their life. Sometimes all it takes to push on through to wholeness and health is the encouragement of a good friend and a fresh perspective that they can bring.

Anita Pickett  |  28 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Nice job. Along with making a plan not to repeat the mistake again, it might help to remember not to place yourself in a position that would allow for venerability. Great points.

Page Cole  |  01 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Anita, what a great point… it’s one that leaders tend to forget. They sometimes begin to feel invulnerable, but we know they aren’t… The advice of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes to mind!

Tim  |  28 Sep 2011  |  Reply

I can relate to people can’t move forward till
They except I am doing this now for 2 yrs now
In depression cause I haven’t admitted and accepted responsibity
Good article

Page Cole  |  29 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Tim, glad the article was helpful for you! I want to encourage you to find someone you trust, and ask them to talk through your situation with them. Sometimes that “admission and accepting responsibility” can be easier with a nudge from someone you believe in, and that believes in you! I’ll be praying for you!

Todd  |  28 Sep 2011  |  Reply

That is all good advice, people need to realize we are Human and we make mistakes. If you have never screwed up it is probably because you aren’t doing much!

Only out of change comes growth, so when we make a Big Blunder, it isn’t the end of the world but rather an opportunity to start over with a new prospective.

Page Cole  |  29 Sep 2011  |  Reply

With that kind of positive attitude, you’re the perfect guy to find someone in your sphere of influence that is struggling, and encourage them, help them push on through to the other side. That kind of energy, empathy and hope can be a life changer for someone who is struggling… Will you go be life changer? Seriously? I want to know!

Todd  |  29 Sep 2011  | 

Hi Page,
I am active In my sphere of influence :)

Asside from my Real Job, I am in a Dance Studio seven nights a week working with people from all walks of life, helping change their life through Dance by developing confidence and personal growth while learning a new skill set.

Learning to dance is a lot like life, you seldom get it right the first time, so learn to laugh at your mistakes and keep trying!

Page Cole  |  29 Sep 2011  |  Reply

Anita, what a great point… it’s one that leaders tend to forget. They sometimes begin to feel invulnerable, but we know they aren’t… The advice of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes to mind!

Susan Mazza  |  01 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Really loved this post Page. Sometimes it takes a “huge failure” – one we can’t hide from or rationalize away in our own mind – to learn the lesson(s) we most need to learn. That we were willing to risk big enough to fail big is an indication we are ready to grow – it is a sign of strength and courage. That same strength and courage is what we can depend on to get us to the other side.

In terms of advice to add for someone going down this road now, I’d add do what ever it takes to move past feeling ashamed. This falls under the “know you are human” category. Some people take themselves away with anger or bravado, but many slink into the background unable to fully recover themselves from the shame and embarrassment. Holding onto shame not only robs us. but also robs those around us from the best of what we have to offer. If you are a leader that people look up to it can rob others of hope. The first step is forgiveness. Forgiveness begins with you forgiving yourself – if you can’t authentically get there, get help. it may be the most important lesson you ever learn.

Page Cole  |  01 Oct 2011  |  Reply

I’m not sure, but you may have hit on the THE NUMBER ONE PROBLEM people face in trying to move on. It seems that no matter how upset others might be about a failure, there is typically no greater critic for any of us than we are of our self. We can find an escape from the criticisms and slams of other people, but it’s difficult to shut off the condemnations you and I may self-inflict in those moments of solitude.

Thanks Susan, not only for the encouragement you offered to others with your comments, but to me too!

Chad Balthrop  |  04 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Hey Page,

Great post. I especially like ‘Know It’. For each of us it’s not a matter of ‘if’ we’ll make a mistake, but ‘when’ and ‘how big will it be?’! What I like about your post is it gives everyone a step by step plan for dealing with the inevitable. Thanks!

God Bless,

Page Cole  |  07 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the honest feedback my friend! I hate to sound like a pessimist, but you’re right in saying that it’s inevitable… everyone has a hard time sometimes!!!

Christian Paulsen  |  04 Oct 2011  |  Reply

We’ve all been there at one time or another. This is a good formula to get pack on the right path. Thanks for sharing.

Page Cole  |  07 Oct 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the encouragement Paula! I hope it can help someone sometime!

Stephan De Villiers  |  15 Oct 2011  |  Reply

The most important and I believe the most difficult of these five actions is to take responsibility for the failure. The hardest part is not coming up with reasons to justify the fact that it is not so bad to have failed. This is a natural human reaction, but one that negates your attempts to accept responsibility.

Page Cole  |  15 Oct 2011  |  Reply

You’re right, self defense and justification seem to be two of the greatest hindrances to actually taking responsibility. I think they are difficult to fight against because usually there is some merit to their arguments. There WERE other causes, there WERE other factors that played a part, and may have influenced us. But the key for us to remember is that we still had a choice… we still either made a bad decision, chose selfishly, acted poorly somehow to cause the failure. Only when you and I are able to truly say to OURSELVES, “I did it… it was my failure, regardless of anyone else or anything else… I was wrong, and I have to take responsibility.”, only then are we able to move past the failure in our life to find healing, a new start and joy.

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