Servant Leaders Make Occasional Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, but servant leaders have a special awareness of what it means to acceptable responsibility. In the effort to lead a team toward a meaningful future, the occasional mishap will occur. Taking appropriate risk takes us down new roads where we cannot anticipate the obstacles in the pathway to success.

In these times, even the most experienced leader can make a decision that proves to be costly. The team will be the first to notice and often raises the alarm. Trust will determine what the team does next.

What actions does the servant leader take in the wake of a mistake?



Before a mistake is made, there are a few plans that can head off disaster. Since everyone makes mistakes, we can anticipate certain situations and the best way to handle each one.

🗪  Expensive Choices – – The wrong choice can cost the company money. Certain people must be informed when this happens. The list of people in certain roles will reduce the need to find the names in after something happens.

🗪  Personnel Incidents – – Sometimes feelings get hurt when a leader makes decisions that affect the team. Even if the choice seems right to the leader, team members can misinterpret the outcome. Early action based on preparation will ensure that the right type of meeting is held at the best possible time.

🗪   Missed deadline – – Project scope creep can happen during the final phase and cause dates to be missed. The leader is responsible in these cases. Informing the affected parties can be dreadful without timely action.

In each instance, the servant leader will make the right choices to inform the people closest to the situation. Whenever mistakes are made, the risk is to spread too much information to those who are not involved. Conversations must happen with the right people while allowing everyone else to continue to work.

Workplace interruptions can be avoided when we know which people to notify following a mistake. The team can continue to be productive while leaders manage the fallout. Talking to the right people will access the people who can help to correct the situation.



Too many great people are just too critical of their own performance. Walking around feeling guilty will reduce even the best leader’s effectiveness. Just as we expect our teams to learn from mistakes and move forward, leaders can take some steps to move through the recovery phase.

🗪   Make Notes – – As soon as the mistake is noticed, the important facts should be recorded. Details about the situation can become skewed when too many discussions take place in the coming days. A few minutes of writing what is known can save a great deal of conjecture later. The notes will ensure that the story does not change over time.

🗪  Choose a Critic – – A trusted mentor can hold us accountable in some situations and move us forward at the times when we are stuck. Perspective is essential following a mistake that creates fear and uncertainty. The people who have more experience and can offer insight will allow us to express emotions, but not stop moving forward.

🗪  Set a Timeframe – – Big mistakes can throw even the best leaders for a curve and create doubts that just won’t fade. Maybe two days is enough to consider what happened and then move forward. Staying stuck will not resolve the issue or allow the mistake to be corrected and left behind. Even the worst mistake is not worth more than a week of evaluation.

🗪   Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.  🗪
~ Oscar Wilde


Workplace gossip is unacceptable to the servant leader. Talking about a mistake with everyone who will listen is detrimental to productivity. The emphasis must remain on completing the work for today. Leaders know that mistakes happen, but the fallout can be restrained to the appropriate people.

🗪    Directly Affected – – The importance of recognizing the people affected by the mistake cannot be overstated. Some people will address you directly and ask for an explanation. Others will wait for you to come to them and answer for the problem they can see. This is where the lists of names or positions can be very helpful. Certain types of mistakes will affect the same parts of the organization.

🗪   Indirectly Affected – – A well-established mentor can assist with the list of people who might have been affected by the mistake. For these individuals, the best approach is to have an open door and be approachable. A big meeting usually just creates questions with people who might have been involved. Most of the people who fall into this category do not ‘need to know.’

🗪   Somewhat Aware – – Too much time can be wasted when the situation is talked about openly. Anyone who is barely aware of the situation will want to stay focused on the work. Gossip is not helpful when routine tasks must be completed and some corrections are needed to address a mistake. Few people will walk into your office for details when the cultural norm is to stay focused on your job.


Everyone makes mistakes at some point, but the key to success is to take responsibility and handle the situation appropriately. In the moments where assistance is needed, follow every step above and keep the situation in perspective. Very few mistakes are unrecoverable.

When others make mistakes, your experience could prove to be invaluable. Everyone needs an ally when something goes wrong. People will have more trust in the person who can create some safety for the person who is unsure what to do next. Every mistake adds to your experience as a leader who recovers well and takes others along for the journey.


🗪 Take risks. Ask big questions.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes;
if you don’t make mistakes,
you’re not reaching far enough.
~ David Packard