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When you make a really big mistake, how do you handle it?


SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership — tracks feedback from more than 210,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

When you make a really big mistake, how do you handle it?

  • Immediately fess up and fix it quickly: 90%
  • Try to fix it quietly yourself so others don’t know: 9%
  • Ignore it and hope no one else notices: 1%

Fess up fast. That’s the preferred approach for almost all of you. When you’ve made a mistake, regardless of size, getting in front of the issue appears to be the best policy. Doing so has several benefits. It eliminates the uncertainty and fear that comes along with worrying about being found out. It demonstrates to the organization that you’re fallible but willing to take responsibility for your actions. It gets people focused on fixing the problem instead of tracking down causes and figuring out where the blame resides. Putting your head in the sand or trying to work behind the scenes to clean up your mess presents many problems. The next time you mess up, try getting in front of the issue instead. The consequences are usually less severe than if you’re found out by someone else.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He’s the author of three leadership books: “One Piece of Paper,” “Lead Inside the Box” and “The Elegant Pitch.”