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How to Stand Out When Screwing Things Up

Irish novelist James Joyce once wrote, “A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” Some days I feel I’ve spent a little too much time peering through those portals. Some of you may feel the same.

As we progress through the week, one thing is for certain. Regardless of our best efforts, some mistakes are going to be made. As much as we strive to be perfect, we will trip over something. For some, the mistakes will be small and incidental. For others, the mistakes will be significant. Regardless of the size, our actions (or reactions) just may determine the impact of the mistake.

I’ve had plenty of practice dealing with mistakes I’ve made. In many ways the manner in which we deal with our mistakes contributes to our personal brand in a big way. Based on my desire to contribute positively to a culture of engagement, I follow four simple steps to allow me to stand out when I’ve managed to screw something up:

One, take responsibility

We live in a blame-oriented society. Everywhere we turn someone is trying to pass blame to someone else. The first step toward dealing with a mistake is taking responsibility for it. In fact, we disengage people around us when they see we won’t take responsibility for our actions. Surprise people by taking full responsibility if it’s your mistake.

Two, inform anyone who needs to know

Some mistakes we make have no impact on anyone but ourselves. However, some mistakes will impact people in our personal and/or professional lives. When you make a mistake that will impact others, let them know. Hiding a mistake normally has much stronger consequences than admitting it up front.

Three, make it right

We’re going to make mistakes … it’s a part of life. The good news is no one expects us to be perfect. However, they want us to make it right when we screw something up. If the mistake is the result of not knowing how to do something, find someone to help you make it right. Whether it requires a simple or complicated fix, make it right.

And four, learn the lesson

If you walk away from any mistake you’ve made and not learned a lesson, you’ve made another mistake. There is a lesson within every mistake we make. Learn from the mistake, and commit to not make the same mistake again.

Simple advice for something we encounter every day … making mistakes. They are inevitable. It means you’re doing something. The mistake does not define you. The leadership you show in handling it will.

Clint Swindall

© 2016 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit, or contact him directly

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