My mother used to have a Charlie Brown pin that said, “I’ve never made a mistake in my life. I thought I did once, but I was wrong.”
I’m not as oblivious to my mistakes. In fact, I have made quite a few, both personally and professionally. In some cases, my gut told me I was making a mistake, but I went ahead anyway. Other times, I forged ahead confidently, only to be jarred by the sudden reality that I’d done something wrong.
This happened recently at work. I got called into the proverbial “principal, or headmaster’s office” and learned something I’d done caused trouble at a sister company. Not intending to make waves, I had started a tsunami.
If you’re a new project manager, it shouldn’t be a surprise that you may make some mistakes. What do you do when you are called in to discuss your fallibility on the job?
I sat and listened to the grievance presented to me — staying calm is always the best approach. I absorbed everything my organizational leader shared with me. The first thing I said was, “I’m sorry.” I briefly explained my side of the story without fanfare or drama. If you can explain yourself with brevity, do. Rambling probably won’t work in your favor.
I made it clear that I understood the other side of the story and guaranteed that I would be extra diligent in the future to avoid such mistakes. I wasn’t defensive. I wasn’t full of ego. I recognized my part in the issue and accepted the blame, as hard as it was.
My organizational leader was professional, but she also expressed her dissatisfaction and disappointment in my behavior. This was the hardest thing to hear. The importance of being able to receive harsh criticism is not touted enough. The ability to hear — and accept — when someone else points out that you failed goes a long way in helping you establish a fruitful project management career.
Afterward, my organizational leader followed up by saying she trusted that I had learned my lesson and would make better decisions going forward. She appreciated hearing my side because she now had full context of the incident.
Before leaving, I asked if there was anything else I could do. In my case, the answer was no, but if there are action items for you, be diligent about accomplishing them in a timely manner. Give feedback to your organizational leader about your progress.
Making a mistake as a professional is embarrassing, but most times, your career will go on. Deal with the mistake professionally and with integrity for a chance to be even better at what you do.
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