What to Do When New Leaders Screw Up
Screwing up and growth are connected.
Seth and Les Gold, tru TV stars of the reality show Hardcore Pawn, interviewed me for their Gold Tone podcast on CBS playit. They’re facing the challenges of a growing business.
Seth asked me about promoting an employee who didn’t work out. It seems the new leader didn’t handle authority with compassion.
The path of growth is littered with mistakes. You aren’t growing if you aren’t screwing up.
In some cases, hope blinds leaders to potential problems. In other cases, people change. If you get people-decision right over half the time, you’re probably doing good.
What to do when new leaders screw up:
#1. Prepare yourself. Everyone screws up, especially new leaders.
- We learn and grow the most at the beginning of a new journey.
- Arm yourself with forward-facing forgiveness. Let go the past while aggressively pressing into the future.
- Monitor their aspirations to learn and grow. Discouragement ends growth.
#2. Don’t throw them under the bus. Let everyone know that making mistakes is a learning process.
#3. Evaluate yourself before others.
- Take ownership. You promoted them.
- How might you have better prepared them?
- What accountability structures did you neglect?
#4. Deal with public failures publicly. (All leadership failures end up public.)
- Everyone already knows things are going South.
- Transparency builds trust. When new leaders screw up, fess up.
- We “screwed up” is better than pretending everything’s OK.
- Expect the new leader to own their mistakes to the team.
- Talk with the team about the issues.
- Seek input and feedback.
- Develop a plan to make things better.
#5. Invite others to be part of the solution.
- What training is appropriate?
- How might teammates become allies?
#6. Monitor closely, at the beginning.
- Expect reports.
- Touch base with their teammates.
#7. Honor progress.
What might leaders do when new leaders screw up?
Listen to the interview on CBS playit.
Thanks, Dan! I plan to apply these tips to myself, as I am the new leader in my rookie season. So, I am making an effort not to throw myself under the bus and remember that I am engaged in a learning process along with the rest of the staff.
Thanks KG. I love how you wrote, “I am making an effort not to throw myself under the bus…” That’s so powerful.
Perhaps the view that we are all in a learning process helps us not sabotage ourselves. We don’t need to know it all. We do need to fail small and grow fast. 🙂
Best for the journey.
You have to look at many of these situations as deliberate learning opportunities. That gives people room to make mistakes. From there you have to be compassionate and caring yourself to ensure that new leader can be coached to the right behaviours.
But you’ve hit it on the head with #3. Take ownership. Who promoted this uncaring person in the first place? Why did you wait until they led someone to know they couldn’t? What behaviour are you exhibiting that they may be modelling? I’ve seen the show – and what I see is a lot of yelling and finger pointing and inappropriate leadership. Maybe that’s a “display” for TV, but maybe, just maybe, that’s where their future leaders are taking their cues from.
Thanks Alf. I always respect your insights.
You reminded me of something I said on the interview. Expect someone to do the job before they get the title. That doesn’t mean they do everything. But, it does mean they are functioning as a leader, before they are given the title of leader.
This balance between accountability, recovery path, compassion, etc. can be dicey, especially when the mistake has a high cost, or lasting side effect associated with it. A challenge I’ve observed is the restoration of confidence and sense of potential, especially in the case of a new leader, the weight of error can be very difficult (and there is usually someone in the organization who will remind them!) So restoring confidence is important. From my perspective that begins with a complete understanding of the error/mistake and the steps that lead to it. Many say “it seemed like the right step at the time” but rebuilding the steps/reasoning that lead to the wrong assumptions and understand that lead to that conclusion is important. (I think) there is a temptation to short-cut this with a “let’s move on” however, moving-on without understanding misses the opportunity for development/growth.
Tip #4 (Deal with public failures publicly. (All leadership failures end up public.)) is one that is so obvious – now… I’m not sure it would have been on mu first list! Thanks for the reminder. Failures do happen if you’re seeking optimum outcomes; without blame but seeking learning and better future outcomes, deal with it transparently.
The touchy area for me would be if the new leader can’t or won’t accept that it was a failure. Then I’d listen to / ask for the reasoning; it should improve the response. Maybe (probably not) the new leader was right – not a failure…
I think the reaction to the failure should be dependent on the amount of investment that is/was there on the leader’s part. If a screw-up took place due to a leader’s complacency, then the response should differ from a screw-up due to inexperience.
The message, however, in this post is very important. We are all human and we should be encouraged to move forward through mistakes rather than allowing the mistakes to be a point where we give up.
Dan, They say “if you don’t make mistakes your not doing anything”. Now mistakes do happen to all of us sooner or later! Key is learning from the mistake, understand what you did wrong, make amends and move forward! Comes down to how much can and will a company tolerate! The Leaders need to pay attention to what’s going around them and get a handle on mistakes made by others and fix them before things fester into a major problem.