A few weeks ago, the wonderful Jeremy Burrows asked me to appear as a guest on his fantastic podcast – The Leader Assistant. If you haven’t subscribed yet, I’d really recommend it. I am coming up on an episode soon. During the interview, Jeremy asked me if I had made any mistakes during my time as an Assistant. Obviously, the answer was yes! I told a story that I want to share with you (and I have written about on the blog before). It can be hard to bounce back from a mistake, especially when the stakes are so high for Assistants. But it is possible and here is my story on how I did just that.
Bouncing back from a mistake
Anyone that has worked in a high pressured job will, at some point in their career, have made a mistake. For those of us that have to multitask, juggle many many different jobs and work for several Executives and colleagues, the likelihood of making a mistake increases significantly. Now, I would love to say that I, of course, have never made any errors at work but, dear reader, I would be lying my backside off. Throughout my career, I have made loads of mistakes, some have not mattered, and nobody noticed but some have significantly mattered, and everyone in the office knew about it.
There is nothing worse than getting that sinking feeling when you realise that you have made a mistake. It is such an isolating feeling and doesn’t disappear even when the panic kicks in. Probably the worse mistake I ever made at work involved tickets to a sold-out international rugby game. My company had several tickets for England games, and I was in charge of allocating the tickets to our Executive team so that they could take clients for corporate hospitality. The tickets were first come first serve, so I sent out the initial email to the team asking them to get back to me if they wanted tickets. As you can imagine, the demand was high, and the tickets were snapped up straight away. Like any diligent assistant, I put all of the information regarding the tickets and who they were going to on a spreadsheet. A few weeks before the game, I received all of the tickets and asked the executives to collect them from me. A few days before the match, all of the tickets had been collected, and I had, of course, used my spreadsheet to note down who had collected the tickets. A day before one of the England games, a very senior Executive came to my desk to collect his tickets. As soon as the words came out of his mouth, my heart started pounding. I didn’t have any tickets left, they had all been allocated, and his name wasn’t on my spreadsheet. The thought went through my head that he might be chancing his luck. But no, he had an email to prove that I had allocated tickets to him and another Executive. S***!
The panic had certainly set in, and I couldn’t make up an excuse, so I told the Executive what had happened. He went berserk. He was taking significant clients, and he had already told them he had the tickets. It was a nightmare. The Executive had a fierce reputation and certainly not someone you would want to get on the wrong side of. He stormed off in search of my boss (who was luckily out for lunch). After a few tears and more swear words in the privacy of the ladies toilets, I racked my brains for a solution. Here is what I did.
Fess up and own your mistake
I made sure I was the first person to see my boss as soon as he came back from lunch. He was a reasonably approachable guy, and I had a good relationship with him, which in this case helped enormously. After I tearfully confessed to everything, his reaction was such a relief – he burst out laughing. He said that he was sure I would fix the situation and as it was rare I made mistakes he was happy to throw some money at the problem. I just had to make sure I satisfied both Executives, and they both got their tickets.
Fix the mistake
The problem was that tickets for this bloody rugby game were like gold dust. It would have been easier to get the Executive into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It didn’t help that I also didn’t know the first thing about rugby or how to go about securing tickets. I phoned a friend who was a big rugby fan. For the second time that day, I heard someone burst out laughing. I tried the official ticket line. They had sold out months ago. I tried a few other official channels and asked every assistant I knew if they had spare tickets before I resorted to resale tickets. There were plenty of tickets still available, but of course, the price per ticket was ridiculous. It was the only way I was going to solve the problem so, as my boss said, I threw some money at it and managed to secure four tickets. Problem solved but at quite a cost to my organisation and my confidence.
Regaining your mojo
For me, it helped that my boss was understanding. If he had also shouted at me, I’m not quite sure how I would have reacted. I probably would have burst into tears which wouldn’t have helped the situation at all or my reputation come to think of it! Although I had managed to get the tickets and everyone was happy (of course the extortionate tickets were better than the original ones!) I was very much aware that I had made a colossal mistake. I retraced my steps and realised I hadn’t remembered to add the Executive’s name to the spreadsheet once I had confirmed the tickets with him which meant that when the other Executive requested the tickets, I thought they were still available. A simple mistake to make but not something I would usually do. I couldn’t even blame anyone else, this was my mistake, and I didn’t have any excuses.
So how did I get my confidence back? Well, first of all, this all happened on a Friday so that night I went out with some supportive friends and got very drunk. Over the weekend, I was able to put my mistake into a little more perspective and decided to put it behind and make a fresh start on Monday. I decided that I was going to work extra hard that week and prove to myself that I was a great assistant. My boss at the end of the week joked that I should make mistakes more often. I was like a machine – everything that I had been putting off was sorted. My Executives didn’t know what hit them! I also made a few changes to my work procedures. I relied too heavily on spreadsheets, so instead, I made sure I converted all relevant emails into reminders and tasks so that I could check I had actioned them at the end of each day. By the following Friday, I had almost forgotten the entire incident. I did, however, spend the rest of my time at the organisation avoiding that Executive. I also got a lovely reminder of my mistake at my leaving do – a rugby shirt!