Mistakes are part of being human, but when an entrepreneur makes a mistake, it can be at the cost of jobs, opportunities, millions of dollars, or even the survival of the company. I’ve been there. The one thing that I learned (the hard way) is that entrepreneur mistakes are inevitable. What matters is what you do next. In a vintage post from my Inc. magazine column, I shared my experience with goofing up big time and how to handle it.
“Once you’ve dealt with the immediate fallout, you have to ask the most important questions: What role, if any, did you play in creating this mess? What could you have done to prevent the crisis or mitigate its negative effects? Why didn’t you?”
In 1988 my messenger business was forced into Chapter 11. For a long time I convinced myself that it was just rotten luck – a stock market crash and the rising popularity of fax machines in business offices. Who could have predicted the one-two punch that would drive my company into bankruptcy? But I wasn’t able to fool myself for long.
“Eventually, I realized the real problem was my appetite for risk. I’d made decisions that left my company vulnerable to such developments. Otherwise, we would have had time to adjust to changes in the market. Because of something in my nature, I’d jeopardized both the company and my employees’ jobs.”
Of course, every entrepreneur takes risks. That’s part of the game, and a necessary part of growing a business. But there’s risk, and then there’s unnecessary risk. It wasn’t easy for me to admit my role in the bankruptcy, but once I did, it paved the way toward big changes in how I lead.
“I adopted practices to slow down my decision-making process and to make sure I was getting advice from people with strengths different from my own. Without those changes, I would never have built the business that I sold for more than $100 million.”
Entrepreneur mistakes happen. The key is to admit them, learn from them, and grow.
“It does no good to get through a crisis unless you learn its lessons. That requires accepting responsibility for what you did but shouldn’t have, or what you didn’t do but should have.”
You can read my article in its original form at Inc. Magazine’s website.