When the Boss Messes Up… What Next?

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s a cliché, but it’s also a fact. And those mistakes always have consequences. When people have more power and authority, their mistakes typically have greater, more far-reaching consequences. This is why so many people are tempted to panic when “the boss” messes up. But ignoring a problem will not make it go away, and overeating will almost always take a bad situation and make it worse.

Getting out ahead of any consequences of a high-level leader’s mistake offers better opportunities to control or direct the narrative, rather than letting someone else run with the message. That step must include transparency because people need honesty if there’s any hope of rebuilding trust. When possible, as much as possible, let people know what happened and why it happened. Help people truly understand by giving them something they can grab hold of. They may not agree, and they may not be happy, but understanding is the first step in bridging the trust gap.

Trying to skip this step will not only damage the potential for rebuilding trust in the brand, but it will also hurt the boss’s personal brand. Allowing for transparency is not about telling secrets. It’s about protecting and preserving the long-term health of both the brand and the leader.

Next, the message offered should be presented clearly, giving people enough information to create understanding and avoid confusion. Offering too much information – too many indirect details – will come across as defensive, which leads to suspicion and distrust. The tone of the communication should be calm, clear, and direct.

While you don’t want to offer too much information, it is important to give people facts they can use to make up their own minds about the situation. People want to feel as if they’re in control. To feel that way, they need information that adds up in their own minds. Again, it doesn’t need to be everything, but it does need to be enough so that people understand what happened, why it happened, and what will happen next.

This kind of message should begin with internal communication. When the leader makes a mistake, they owe it to their team to explain, help them understand, and prepare the team for any potential consequences of that mistake because the fallout could very well affect them. It will certainly affect the organization as a whole. Also, when the boss speaks to the team and helps them understand, it puts everyone on the same page, so there’s no conflicting messages coming out of the organization, which would further confuse the issue. Once the team understands the situation and is on board the next steps, the message should go out to the general public.