If you do not reach a deadline, get tangled up in a great deal of minutia, or simply dropped the ball in an area, man (or woman) up! Let the boss know what happened in a humble and professional manner, and take the initiative to resolve the issue via a proactive approach. Come up with solution prior to meeting with your supervisor and offer it in a confident and friendly manner. Nobody is perfect, and nobody expects you to be. However, being a responsible employee involves accountability for areas you may fall short.
I am not saying if you are a pilot and land the plane nose-down that there will not be more drastic consequences! (For my pilot friends who regularly read the blog). However, in the normal course of a non life-threatening day, take accountability in areas and ask for help when you need it. That is why teamwork exists: to assist, to delegate, to offer help to a colleague.
Conversely, when up for a promotion, identify areas where you succeeded. Highlight to your boss the big wins within the organization, and discuss the bottom line results (financial profitability, savings, new customers, long term customer retention, etc.) These are great areas to showcase when you are in an interview as well. Be aware of and proud of what you contribute to the organization.
People screw up. We are humans, and as such, we make mistakes: some little, some big, and some pretty overwhelming. Perhaps you didn’t finish college. Do not lie on your resume. Companies who have their fair share of applicants to choose from complete educational, reference, and background checks.
Case in point: I worked very closely with a fantastic temp who was assisting me at a Fortune 500 organization. She had all of the qualifications for the full time opening and did an outstanding job while temping. When it was time to offer her the full time role, my client verified her 4 year degree, and she had falsified it on her resume, thanks to bad advice she received from a relative. The offer was rescinded, and I refused to work with her again, because I was unable to trust her. Once you break trust, it is much harder to rebuild than just being transparent.
I would have still sent her to the job knowing she did not have her degree. The organization would have hired her, and even worse, they offer tuition reimbursement, so she would have been able to complete her degree while working. It never got to that point.
Whether a legal issue, credit blip (and after the last few years with the economy, who doesn’t have a problem there), or any other weakness, just be honest and share what you have done or can do to improve. Mom is right on this one!