When Managers Make Mistakes – What Should They Do?

When an effective manager makes an ineffective decision, they need to learn from their mistake and move forward. There is no advantage to “wallowing in the error” rather it is much better to find a way to fix the poor decision and make sure that it does not recur.

Here are five good choices to get back up on the horse after a bad choice has been made:

  1. Accept Responsibility for the Mistake

Do not blame anyone else for your mistake. Effective leaders willingly accept personal responsibility as they know that accountability is key to their credibility. Team leaders, whose team members may have erred, still take responsibility for their team after they have examined what when wrong, corrected it as best they can and learn from the experience.

  1. Apologize and Explain

Once you acknowledge the mistake, bad judgment, or poor choice, apologize and explain your actions. An explanation is not an excuse, rather it serves to set forth the series of events leading up to that sincere apology. It is important to admit your mistakes and take responsibility for them. Let everyone know how you are moving past the issue. People understand that you cannot change the past and they may be upset with you for a short while, however, they will recognize your integrity and appreciate you for your honesty.

  1. Take the Lessons Learned to Heart

Once you have cleaned repaired the damage as best as possible, tread lightly and carefully as you consider your next steps. The important thing to remember is what went wrong. You may still be facing the same situation or a very similar one so it is very important to make the best choice possible to try to fix the problem. Now, if that choice also fails, you now know two approaches that don’t work and can seek a third option that hopefully will be the right fix. All these experiences can be opportunities to learn.

  1. Keep Moving Forward

It is very important to make the best of a bad situation and push forward. In this way, you make the bad decision a minor mistake in the context of the whole. Now you need to continue making good decisions, and eventually, people will forget the mistake.

  1. Focus on the Present

It is always best to learn from the past and not to dwell on mistakes. There is nothing you can do about it now, so focus on the present and move forward to the next issue you face.

The only people who never make bad decisions are those who make no decisions at all. Every great event in human history involved someone taking a risk and the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. When you do make a mistake, handle it with dignity, take responsibility for your error, and learn from what happened. Then, just keep taking calculated risks because that is what a leader does and it is expected of you.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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  1. Another great post Sandy, I loved your statement, “When you do make a mistake, handle it with dignity,..”

    What you suggest is not too easy, but when we do make mistakes, we must be big enough to admit our mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them. Making mistakes does not define us, it is how we rectify those mistakes, defines us. However, it does demand great courage to Admit, Acknowledge, Accept and Apologize.

    I remember reading someone saying, “Never be proud of the mistakes you have done, feel pride in learning from those mistakes which has made you a better human today.”

    Bruce Lee once said, “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”

    • Thanks so much, Jonathan, I really appreciate your support and your insights. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and adding your valuable comments.

  2. If only all leaders could respond to mistakes with such grace and purpose…Thank you for outlining the steps to follow in the aftermath of a mistake. Your article makes it quite clear that recovery is not only possible but expected.

    • Hi Christine, I am glad that you found the article helpful. Yes, many leaders do not handle this easily and honestly, it is not “rocket science” just a little common sense and sensitivity can go a long way. Thanks for reading the article.