You mistakenly hit send on a half-written email to an important client.  You attached last year's numbers to this year's report. Everyone makes mistakes. But not everyone manages the aftermath in a proactive and professional manner.  Here are my top 5 strategies for making that happen.

1. Assess the damage. 

Your emotions scream panic, but keep a level head.  How serious is this actually?  Is there a quick potential fix?   Or is the damage already done?  It feels awful to screw up, but sometimes our emotions can warp our sense of reality.  In essence the first stage here is to pause, assess, and gather yourself.

2.  Speak with the relevant parties. 

And do this as soon as you can, but after you've had a chance to assess, calm down, and gather your thoughts.  Your boss, your client--whoever it is--wants to understand what happened and why; that you understand the seriousness of what you did, that you accept full responsibility, and that it won't happen again.  So, admit your mistake fully. Take responsibility. This was your mistake.  Own up to it. 

3. Explain it will never happen again. 

Devise an action plan to fix this problem (though understanding your client has the final call and might have different ideas)--and what specifically you'll do to make sure this never happens again. Be proactive.  This is actually a great opportunity to build up some of the social capital you've just potentially lost. 

4. Self-reflect. 

Why did this happen?  Were you multitasking to an extreme, and that caused you to miss a key deadline or detail?  Was this a one-off mistake? Or is this somewhat of a pattern?  You don't necessarily want to reveal all your inadequacies, but it's critical for you to honestly reflect and learn from mistakes in order to improve for the future.

5. Earn trust back through your actions.

Show this will never happen again by consistently delivering results and being ultra reliable and trustworthy.  Excellent work is the very best remedy for rebuilding a tarnished reputation. 

In the end, everyone makes mistakes. The point isn't avoiding failure; it's handling the aftermath in a smart, proactive way that turns a potential disaster into an opportunity for rebuilding your reputation and proving your worth to the people that matter.