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Boss, I Screwed Up

Unless you are Charlie Sheen, most of us who screw-up have to come clean to the boss. It's a gut-wrenching, sweat-inducing descent into the bowels of humility with an uncertain outcome.

Here's the good news. Done properly, admitting and then rectifying a mistake can be a career enhancer. Every boss knows subordinates make mistakes -- heck, I bet your superior has made one or two along the way. The challenge is recovering gracefully, and not every manager is good at righting a wrong. Demonstrating to upper management that you are capable of fixing a stinker can more than make up for the original sin.

There is a right way and a wrong way to come clean. The wrong way is to lose all sense of professionalism and turn into a sniveling, apologizing basket case. The right way is to show remorse by first taking responsibility for your actions (that's different than an apology) and, equally important, proposing a solution.

Harvard Management Mentor, a crack online management advice product, suggests these four actions to deliver bad news:

  • Describe. Provide a general overview of the problem, and explain the impact. Be sure to position this in terms of what matters to your manager.
  • Identify a solution. Recommend a specific solution or approach, along with alternatives.
  • Analyze your solution. Share the pros and cons and explain the implications. Be prepared to discuss the risks or barriers that may be of concern to your boss.
  • Accept responsibility. Let your manager know that you are willing to take the responsibility for the outcome of your proposed approach.
This is the right way to rebuild bridges. It shows that you are thinking clearly, responsibly, that you are results-oriented, but that you understand your butt is still on the line. Just make sure your new solution works!

Tell us about some of your notable failures and how you made it right with management.

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(Photo by Flickr user patrick kiteley, CC 2.0)
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