Mulligans (Do-Overs) Not Allowed

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For those who aren’t golfers, a mulligan is a do-over. In golf, if your first shot was botched, just drop another ball and the first one doesn’t count. The hope is that the second shot will be better and the first one, well, will be forgotten. The pros don’t get any mulligans, but for weekend duffers, it is a part of the game as long as it’s not overdone. And when it comes to golf, I appreciate mulligans.

At work though, mulligans are a different story. Many are the times we wish that a do-over was a part of how we work, but it’s rare that you get a mulligan . The first shot always counts.

  • Miss a deadline? No mulligan.
  • Do something crazy like send a rant to the boss/company? No mulligan.
  • Make an inappropriate comment in a meeting? No mulligan.
  • Irritate a customer? No mulligan.
  • Blow a presentation in front of the boss? No mulligan.
  • Get caught on video doing something you don’t want to share? No mulligan

The list of no mulligans at work is infinite. Lots of people expect do-overs at work but that is usually not the case. Even if a do-over is granted, people remember that first try and may or may not forgive it. For leaders especially, a do-over is never allowed. I wish they knew that the workplace is not a golf course and behaviors and decisions, once out there, can’t be taken back. Leaders are not perfect and mistakes will be made and adjustments need to follow but mulligans are a little different than correcting a mistake.

If we screw up and want to correct a mistake, the correction usually involves an admission of the problem and a plan to move forward. Some humility is involved. A mulligan is a belief that the first one didn’t count and others will tacitly grant approval. That doesn’t happen at work.

Staying out of the danger zone that requires a mulligan is not that difficult. A few quick reminders can help:

  • Always double-check your work. Sure, check for typos and spelling but that’s not enough. Is your work something you are proud of? Does it solve a problem? What grade would you give it? If it’s not an A, do it again.
  • Never send emails or texts when angry or upset. Especially don’t hit any send buttons when you are drunk.
  • Develop positive relationships with your colleagues. An occasional mulligan might be granted if people like you. Be thoughtful in dealing with you colleagues.
  • Recognize that little things count and don’t expect daily mulligans as in if you are always late for meetings.
  • Do what you say you will do and do it well. Mulligans may never be needed.

In golf, some players sneak mulligans although other players almost always know – sneaking mulligans is called cheating. That shouldn’t happen at work but when it does, terminations might ensue.

Sometimes we might have an accommodating boss who understands the need for coaching and improving. He or she might suggest the report needs more work or the presentation is not complete or that analysis needs to be redone. That’s not a mulligan, that’s a good boss.

Mulligans are a part of golf; just don’t expect any at work.

Richard is the author of the new book The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters [A Worker’s Manual]. You can follow his writing on TwitterFacebook, or at his website at

Richard is a noted San Francisco based business leader, workplace pundit, bestselling author and venture capitalist.

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