REALity Question: What happens to leaders when they make a bad judgement call?

Last month, Rebecca included the following question in a comment:

I would love to read one of your posts on when a leader makes a bad decision. After all, no one is perfect, not even the best leaders. So what happens to leaders when they make a bad judgment call?

Great point and great question, Rebecca. Lord knows I’ve made my share of bad decisions and mistakes over the years, and one thing I’ve learned is that what happens to leaders when they make a bad judgment call depends on how leaders handle the bad judgment call.

What’s the worse that can happen?

Let’s start with the bad news first. The worst case scenario is when a leader realizes he makes a bad decision, and he chooses ignores it. First, the problem doesn’t go away. Second, it’s the proverbial “elephant in the room.” Everyone knows it’s a bad decision. (They probably knew it before you did.) And they know it was your decision. What they don’t know is why you won’t take steps to fix it.

How to Handle a Bad Call

Of course, if you do a good job handling a bad call, you have a lot to gain. Here are three action steps for next time you need to make a wrong call right.

1. Acknowledge it. But then focus on moving forward. Remember that not all bad calls are the results of bad decision making. Some decisions don’t work out because the team didn’t support it or work to make it successful. Encourage and allow your team to be part of the decision-making process so future calls will be owned and supported by the team.

2. Explain it. Tell your team why you’re adjusting your strategy. Maybe you have new information, or perhaps the conditions have changed. Tell them why and how the adjustment will make the strategy perform stronger for the team and the company.

3. Adjust it. Once you know you’ve made a bad call, fix it. I love the quote by an ancient Chinese philosopher that says, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Having a strategy is important, and staying the course is very important. But you must be willing to change nuances in your strategy based on reality.

So, what happens to leaders when they make a bad judgment call? If we ignore it or just refuse to change, we kill the momentum and the morale, and we lose the faith and trust of our team. If we’re willing to own up to a bad call, we haven’t failed. And we don’t abandon our course. We adjust, and we gain confidence and credibility. That’s what it means to lead to the conditions.


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