Everyone makes mistakes, everyone.
Being in a leadership position essentially guarantees that someone is going to notice your mistakes and, in order to be successful, you need to own up to them. You may initially believe that admitting these mistakes will make you seem incompetent, but really it shows your subordinates (and superiors) that you are human, like them, and willing to take responsibility for your actions. As leaders we must always strive to set the standard, but sometimes we will fall short of that standard. If we expect our subordinates to own up to their mistakes then we must do it first.
I found this short article about “how to tell an employee you were wrong…” It’s a great, humbling, reminder that we leaders make mistakes too and we must never forget to demonstrate our expectations for our team through our own actions.
Author: Sarah McCord
Everyone makes mistakes, but being in a leadership role often seems to add a layer of confusion. Maybe your inclination is to downplay or even hide what you did, because you’re worried that admitting an error will make you look unqualified. To the contrary, covering it up could lead your employees to be in the one-third of respondents surveyed by the American Psychological Association who said, “My employer is not always honest and truthful.”
These sentiments are the enemy of open communication and can harm your workplace relationships. With that in mind, here’s how to communicate your error:
1. Own up to your mistake
“Do as I say, not as I do,” is rarely an effective leadership technique. If you brush off (or ignore) what you did wrong, what might your employee do the next time he’s in a tight spot?
model the behavior you expect.
model the behavior you expect. Go out of your way to communicate your mistake the same way you’d like an employee to if she made a similar error. Would you want her to speak to you one-on-one; to send an email; to have game-plan of what she’d do differently in the future?For example, let’s say you learn from exit interviews that you weren’t providing adequate feedback. Scheduling regular meetings moving forward is an important fix, but it might seem a bit out of left field (leaving your employees to wonder if it will actually last).
In this instance, schedule one-on-one discussions. Lead with: “I realize I haven’t been sharing feedback with you outside of your annual review. I know that makes it harder for you to do your job — and it’s my job to help you, not keep what I see as areas for growth or praise to myself until January. It’s a mistake I’d like to rectify by scheduling times for us to discuss progress more regularly.” Then ask what is (and isn’t) working from their perspective.
2. Include an apology if necessary
Many mistakes don’t require an ongoing change to schedules, but they do require an apology. Say you didn’t sleep a wink last night, and when your employee came to you with an idea this morning you shut it down without really listening. Or you never got back to her on something, so she took initiative and made a decision and you scolded her for it.
Step beyond the admission that you wish you’d handled things differently and include the words, “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t indicate a lack of strength: It demonstrates willingness to apologize for bad behavior.
Bonus: Encouraging people to apologize when they’re wrong will not only benefit your relationship with employees, but also their relationships with the customer base. According to a study quoted in this American Express Open Forum post, “more than twice the number of unhappy customers are willing to forgive a company that issues an apology over one who offers them a monetary compensation.”
3. Find the balance
There are all levels of mistakes at work — from accidentally sending an email before you were finished to unintentionally sending one to the wrong person. This is an important point, because in the spirit of being authentic, you don’t want to go too far and apologize to your employees for every minor error you make. At best, you’ll be seen as annoying and overdoing it, and at worst, you could be seen as incompetent.
So if you forgot to cc an employee on an email about a project he’s been working on, a simple “Whoops, I forgot to cc you, looping you in now,” will do the trick. Forget (or fail) to give credit to someone for his great work in a team meeting? That merits an apology.
Manager’s Resource Handbook explains it well:
This is not to say that managers should apologize for every slightly incorrect detail to keep the record straight…The point is simply that managers need not behave like robots who lack a conscience, but rather as people who can make occasional mistakes and whom are willing to admit it.
A good rule of thumb is to think how you’d feel if the roles were reversed. If you made an error with no consequences — add it to your internal inventory for what you could do better next time and leave it at that. But if you do something that undermines, discourages, discredits or otherwise thwarts the efforts of your employees or organization, own up to it. That makes it clear that would never be your intention.
No one enjoys admitting he or she screwed up, so stay focused on the bigger picture. You’re setting an example and contributing to a culture where people are honest when they make a mistake, then work to fix it. So, say you were wrong, and apologize if need be. Then move forward, as the strong, transparent leader you are.