What To Do When You Stuff Up

It’s gonna happen sooner or later. Probably sooner. Sometimes it can even feel like it’s happening on a daily basis.

You stuff up.
Let someone down.
Don’t do what you said you were going to do.
Make a judgement call that causes some grief.
Inadvertently offend or hurt someone.

If you’re taking risks as a leader – or simply learning, growing and living a full life – mistakes and stuff ups are part of the deal.

Last week I had an absolute doozy. I’m cringing while I write this – that’s how bad it was.

I’m working alongside my awesome personal trainer, Lucas Bennett, to develop a combined executive coaching and PT package, designed to help busy, stressed out execs gain clarity and improve performance with their bodies AND their leadership roles.

Lucas, who is only the best damn PT in Nelson (or probably even the world), has featured in my blog before – see here to read the part he’s played in literally transforming my life.

I’m suuuuper excited about this coaching programme, so stay tuned for more details on that little puppy.

But back to the doozy.

We had made a commitment to launch this product by February. Enter stage left my over commitment muscle combined with my over excited vibe and …well… you know what’s comin’ next don’t ya?

I didn’t keep my end of the deal around deadlines and commitments. Sigh :-/

Lucas is used to calling me out if I don’t do what I say I’m gonna do, so he let me know I’d let him (and us) down, in his lovely, low-key way.

Here’s what I learned about stuffing up – both from this experience and my coaching practice:

1. If you muck up, front up. Do you feel like running a million miles?


If so, this is your cue to DO THE OPPOSITE.

2. Fess up. But without the excuses. Stay above the line (ownership, accountability, responsibility). I wanted to download to Lucas ad infinitum about WHY I didn’t make the deadline, in a whiny feeling sorry for my ass, kinda way.  Admittedly, I did have too much on my plate, but a simple, “I overcommitted and as a result of that didn’t meet our agreed deadline,” was all I needed to say.

3. I’m sorry. This can be a real tough one for many of us. What is so difficult about saying those two simple words? The other day, a telecommunications company’s service was less than stellar. In their correspondence to me, the most powerful two words they uttered were “we’re sorry.” Even better, take a moment to let the other person know you understand how you made them feel. “I’m sorry I spoke over you in that meeting. Being unable to finish your sentence and not feel heard must have been frustrating for you.” This is more effective than a simple “I’m sorry I spoke over you in that meeting.”

4. Fix it. Tell the other party what you are going to do to make it better. Even better, ask for their suggestions to remedy the situation. “What will help things to get back on the right track here?” For me, it meant making some new commitments to Lucas – and making darn sure that unless a zombie apocalypse transpires between now and then, I’ll do them. I realise I’ve got work to do to get back to a neutral perspective with Lucas. At the moment, he might not be 100% sure he can rely on me for deadlines. It’s in my best interests to change that.

5. Focus on what you learned from this experience. Spend a few minutes either writing down or discussing what your learnings are with someone. Then write down what you will do to avoid it happening again.

–          What have I learned about myself through this?

–          What can I do to remedy this?

–          How can I avoid this again (and the ensuing necessary apologies I’ll have to make if I do).

And, if you are on the other end of the stuff up? Recognise we are all trying our best. We all make mistakes, so bring your compassionate hat to the table rather than your judgement hat.

As for me, I’m off to do my bit to launch this cool new coaching product…and buy my buddy Lucas a coffee!

What tips do you have for dealing with stuff ups? I’d love to hear from you – please leave your comments below.


  1. Nick Jessett on March 10, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Hi Suzi,

    It is difficult to front up as most of us feel the need to go into a long diatribe by way of justification. Keeping it simple is always the right answer!

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about the coaching programme.

    Best Nick

    • Suzi McAlpine on March 10, 2015 at 10:17 pm

      Hi Nick,
      You’re absolutely right – simple is often the best way! Great to hear from you, will keep you posted on the coaching programme front 🙂

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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