Mistakes New Leaders Make: Explaining Things Away


Justin Clark, MBA

This twelve week series is a collection of my personal experiences as a new leader over the past three years. These are not only mistakes that I have made, but that I continue to make at times. I hope that by sharing my experiences, readers will be able to navigate their role as a leader more skillfully. 

What are the barriers to doing this?

We have all been there — at the end of the day trying to figure out how such a great plan didn’t produce the right result. The easy thing to do is to begin to explain how things went awry. If only this had happened! If someone else had just done their part! The list of reasons is as long as our sensibilities will allow. After all, we had a good plan. A plan that should have worked. It is easy to defend our plans when we achieve an undesirable result. We want to be judged by our intentions, not our actions.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

However, the results we achieve are how we will be judged. If we continue to defend our well-intended plans in the face of bad results, people will perceive us to be blame shifters. Leaders who want to hide behind our intentions and not our outcomes. As a leader, we are owners of our outcomes. Publicly embracing that ownership in the face of failure, as well as success, will show our colleagues that we desire to be held accountable. It will establish a level of trust and dependability that is unattainable if we continually try to explain things away.

How can you do it?

1.  Acknowledge when your process is not successful.

2. Take ownership of that result.

3. Develop a plan to remedy the undesirable outcome.

4. Communicate the new plan with the affected parties. 

5. Execute the new plan.

Why do you think it is important for a leader to own their failures?

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