Carillion's board of directors made big mistakes. These are the next steps to take if you make one, too

Michael Serwa
Weighed down by debts, Carillion collapsed into liquidation on 15 January (Source: Getty)

We all make mistakes – after all, what human being doesn’t?

But when your mistake has a direct and overwhelmingly negative effect upon thousands of people’s jobs and livelihoods, a card or a pint isn’t going to cut it.

This time it’s Carillion’s board of directors facing an inquiry as to whether they should be allowed to ever be company directors again, but this isn’t the first time a business leader has made a bad move, and it surely won’t be the last.

Read more: Grayling quizzed by Carillion inquiry on EY 'conflicts of interest'

Those in positions of this kind are there for a reason: they are comfortable with high levels of responsibility, and with taking more risk than the majority. Clearly, these are signs of success.

But make one terrible move, take one risk that doesn’t work, and that success can turn into something worse than failure. Destruction. Chaos. Pain. Redundancy. Whole industries can be thrown into turmoil.

What do you do next when you’re the one who created that? Let them come at you, guns blazing? Sit back, and pretend like it’s nothing? Be overcome with guilt? Numb yourself? Crack on, and find a new position? Blame someone else?

All are possible choices. All create different outcomes.

After working with countless business leaders and individuals with high levels of responsibility, this would be my advice to anyone facing the challenge of what to do after making a big mistake, like the Carillion bosses.

Be honest

Accept responsibility for your actions. Screw your ego – you just had a massively detrimental impact on real people’s lives. Don’t avoid that.

No matter your success or power, there is no excuse for not having some compassion.

No one respects liars and shifty people who dodge the truth. You want to be trusted in another position? Get real about the part you actually played and admit it. You might not be liked immediately, but being a good person cuts through the guff long-term.

Look at the bigger picture

You lost this time, but you’ve still achieved a lot. Your mistakes are bigger than everyone else’s, we can see that, but that’s because you play with much larger stakes. Don’t let this one loss – no matter its size and clearly disastrous impact – stop you from winning again.

People will hate you when you lose, but win for them or show them that you can, and they’ll love you again.

Learn from your past

Get real about your mistakes. Many people won’t forgive this one, but enough will. Make the mistake again? Forget it, you’re done. While you can’t take back what you did, you are in a unique position to know how not to mess up so massively next time, perhaps even to stop it happening to other businesses. You’re the bad guy, so do something to be the good guy.

If you’ve screwed up on a large scale, you’ll find no pity or sympathy.

However, if you’ve made it to this position, you don’t care about that anyway. All that anyone cares about is cutting to the chase. Stop failing and start winning again – for everyone’s sake.

Read more: After Carillion, breaking up the Big Four is not the answer

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