Leadership / Trust / Mistakes

When An Employee Lets You Down

Your reaction shapes the culture.

Mark McMillion
11 min readNov 11, 2023

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Image from OpenClipArt. Creative Commons Zero 1.0 Public Domain License

Sooner or later, no matter how good (or bad) a leader you are, an employee is going to drop the ball. They’re going to fail at something, maybe important, maybe not so important, but they’re going to fail. How you respond in that moment and how you deal with the aftermath are critical. Critical to you as a leader, critical to the organization, critical to the employee, and critical to all the employees who witness the situation, or even just hear about it.

Someone once said the root of disappointment is in expectations. As a leadership trainer with 30+ years of experience, I list expectations as one of the Top Four things leaders must communicate regularly. When I’m doing communication training for leaders, I hit this hard. Then I hit it again. After I move on to the next topic, I refer back to it. Because it’s that important.

The Communication Top Four. Image courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.

Let’s start with a case where you haven’t communicated what was expected. You expected Sebastian to coordinate with marketing, accounting, and the supply chain manager, but you didn’t tell him to do it. Sebastian had never been down this path before and yeah, maybe he should have known or figured it out but he didn’t. He didn’t let the supply guy know. Whose fault is it when the new product launch is locked and loaded but the supply chain can’t support the increase in production? Look in the mirror for the answer.

You assumed and if you ever watched Under Siege 2 with Everett McGill as the chilling evildoer, you know what it’s the mother of. Here’s a clip for those who missed that masterpiece. It’s profane.

You screwed up and it’s your mistake. Own it, fix it, learn from it, and move on. This is a teaching moment for yourself but also your employees will be watching to see what happens. Are you going to kneecap poor Sebastian? Your response will impact how employees behave with and around you. Follow my advice and you’ll grow your trust with them. They’ll understand you have their backs. Give Sebastian the Tonya Harding and they’ll know your priorities…

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Mark McMillion

Retired Army officer with two tours in Baghdad, married with four kids. Proud West Virginian and West Point grad. Works available on Amazon.