Ever made a mistake? Of course. Here’s the deal. As you become a leader and gain an increasing amount of responsibility, you’re going to find yourself making more mistakes. Seriously. The number of mistakes and the seniority of someone in an organization is directly correlated. Why? Because more leadership means more responsibility, and more responsibility means more decisions. More decisions mean more chances to take a wrong turn.
It’s nothing to run from. Everyone is going to do it, regardless of how well prepared they are. Because of that, it’s vital that as leaders we become deliberate about how we admit our mistakes. The way that we conduct ourselves when we make a mistake, and the manner with which we admit these mistakes can undermine our position as leaders within our teams and organizations. Similarly, it can also enhance our standings as leaders as well.
Presumably, right now you’re sitting with a puzzled look on your face wondering how the heck making mistakes and then dealing with them in the manner we describe below will actually make you a better and more respected leader. It’s actually quite simple. Self-critique and honesty are essential leadership traits. When these work together and are on display – for instance, when someone admits a mistake – your team will find their respect for you and trust of you growing.
We now know why it’s important to admit mistakes, but how can we do it in the most effective way possible?
The first rule of admitting a mistake is to do it quickly. Don’t drag your feet and don’t waste time. Look, no one wants to fess up to saying or doing the wrong thing. It stings. But the faster we do it, the less it will string, and the smaller the damage inflicted will be since the longer these things fester, the more opportunity we give for negative and damaging thoughts to fester in the minds of our team members.
We touched on humility being a key trait for leaders, but it’s so important that it’s worth mrntioning again. Ego is absolutely the enemy for leaders, and the inability to check it will undermine any positive growth you’ve made elsewhere. Too often senior members of an organization feel the need to make excuses or overly explain what caused them to make the wrong decision as if it isn’t them that made the wrong decision but a series of external circumstances that led them there. In fact, I’ve seen countless senior members of organizations completely abandon accountability for decisions and throw their subordinates under the bus. Notice that I refer to them as senior members of organizations and not leaders. Obviously, that’s not something that a leader would do.
If you find yourself in this situation, just plainly and flatly admit your mistake. Many times the blame is shared or perhaps even falls with someone on your team. Guess whose fault is is then? Still yours. As a leader, that’s what you sing up for. Leading people isn’t always the most enjoyable exercise, but it’s far and away the most meaningful, and the burden of responsibility when things go south is one of the things that makes it that way.
What Was Learned
I’ve written quite a bit about the goldmine that is failure, and how it can provide vital insight that you simply can’t get anywhere else. When it comes to admitting mistakes, we must focus on what we learned from this mistake so that we can extract some value from the misstep.
It’s important that your team see you do this and that you communicate to them what you learned from YOUR mistake. This shows your team member that it’s OK to make mistakes, which is something that you want them to know and believe. By focusing on what you learn, you keep the conversation positive and keep any momentum that your team had.
Action Plan Moving Forward
Piggybacking on what we learned, we have to clearly articulate a plan moving forward. Don’t wallow in the misery of making a mistake. As leaders we must always be moving forward, so it’s key that we include a plan forward whenever we admit a mistake. This can be collaborative as well. The input from your team can of course be very meaningful in crafting this path forward. However you arrive at it though, you must immediately incorporate it to bury the sting and impact of the mistake. The sooner you get moving, the sooner the mistake is forgotten and the closer success is.
As you read these, remember that these work for large and small mistakes alike. No organization is immune to mistakes, and those organizations that have senior members – and junior members as well – that bury mistakes or shy away from owning them will simply not succeed. After all, you can’t move forward cohesively unless there’s a clear version of reality. I’ve worked with countless organizations that knew shirking responsibility for mistakes was pervaisive in their culture, and thus the employees had no confidence in the paths they were on. Don’t let this be you or your organization. Admit mistakes. Fail fast. Move forward.