Why you should always own up to your mistakes (my email incident)

I was furious.

So, I wrote an email.

And pressed the “send” button.

It was one of those moments I’d like to forget.

Because what followed was a storm. Just because of my email.

What had happened

We were in one of these cut-throat IT projects. Extremly tight deadlines. Huge scope and massive risk. And as project manager, my name was on the line.

There was one stakeholder who held massive control over the project. And we were trying to get issues sorted out through a series of conference calls (the stakeholder was based overseas). The problem was: As we were waiting in the call …. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes …. the stakeholder WOULD NOT SHOW UP!

This happened once, twice, four times, five times. Almost every time.

‘That’s it!’ I thought.

One day I was so fed up with their behavior. After hearing yet another excuse for why they couldn’t join the meeting, I vented my anger in an email to the concerned team. I closed with the line: “I don’t want to hear this *** anymore!” (replace *** with whatever bad word comes to your mind)

Then, my email got circulated to local management. Then to top management. And within minutes I got a dozen angry emails back from managers who were offended by my letter (sidenote: the stakeholder had finally awoken from deep slumber … hahaha).

How I pulled myself out of the mess

First I was in a state of shock.

So many people had seen my email, and I knew I couldn’t just sit around doing nothing.

Then I wrote an email to everyone, explaining the reason for my frustration and apologizing for my behavior.

During the next meeting with the unresponsive stakeholder (they finally showed up!), I again said “sorry” and took personal ownership for the issue.

No sugar-coating.

I hate to see when people don’t admit their mistakes. They blame someone else. They blame circumstances. And they hide behind a closed office door. That’s never been my style, and it shouldn’t be yours either.

What you can learn from my case

Fact is, you are going to make (dumb) mistakes. Getting emotional over an issue like in my case is just one example.

Here are some other common mistakes a PM can make:

  • You will make planning mistakes (and have to work yourself out of it)
  • You will forget to inform people (and they will be upset)
  • You will miss an important meeting
  • You will miss to get someone’s approval (because you didn’t know it was required)
  • You will send out emails that will be misunderstood (I sent many of those in the beginning)

When these things happen, you can either stick your head in the sand and look for the next best excuse. Or you can say “Sorry, I’ve messed up. I’m gonna sort things out and it won’t happen again.”

Yes, admitting your own failures can hurt.

But it’s also the basis for getting better at what you do. And if you want to grow, personally and professionally, looking at the stuff that doesn’t work (yet) is the first step.

There’s another reason why being sincere about your failures pays off.

Sincerity builds trust

Something I noticed after the incident:

Not only did the collaboration approve after my “anger attack”. My sincere handling of the situation lead to a massive gain in trust and respect, both from the team and management. I could feel how managers suddenly were willing to go above and beyond to support the project. And from the tone of their voice I could tell they enjoyed working for me.

Totally surprising.

You would expect the opposite effect, right?

Now, I’m not sharing this story to show off.

What I want to get into your head is: Always assume responsibility for your mistakes. Because most people don’t. And as a leader, people expect sincerity from you. After all, it’s the kind of behavior you want to see from others, right?



  • Adrian Neumeyer

    Hi! I’m Adrian, founder of Tactical Project Manager and Ex-Project Manager with over ten years of experience in project management. Led large-scale IT implementations and business projects. I started Tactical Project Manager to offer you a straightforward and pragmatic approach to project management, enabling you to lead any project with confidence.

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