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?