Go ahead. Raise your hand if you’ve never made a mistake
If your hand isn’t up, how willing are you to own and admit your mistakes?
What’s the Difference Between a Lie and a Mistake?
If you make a mistake and are not corrected, this is called a mistake. ~ Confucius
Before we get too far, let’s distinguish between failing to admit a mistake and actually lying.
I’m not sure of the provenance of this nugget, but it helps to make the distinction:
- When an error is made unintentionally, it is a mistake.
- When an error is made intentionally, it is a lie.
- When a mistake is pointed out, but still clung to, it becomes a lie.
This is NOT about lying or covering up illicit activity, say, the example of the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, which was a deliberate effort to cheat U.S. emissions standards. The Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme and the Lance Armstrong doping scandal are among the countless other events born with a deliberate lie to conceal illicit activity.
Today, I’m going to show you why admitting your mistakes … promptly and unprompted … is the only way to Become a More Effective Leader.
Are we celebrating our values – or applying them only when it’s convenient?
The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none. ~ Thomas Carlyle
We’ve often touched upon the importance of values.
We discussed their importance in Does Mom think you should be a snitch? when we considered the West Point honor code and the ethical obligations we’re expected to “tolerate” from those who break the rules.
We’ve also examined the misadventures and ethical lapses of executives in How Close is Your Business to a Colossal Screwup?.
So, if we all celebrate the transcendence of values, why do so many persist in refusing to admit their mistakes … digging a deeper hole for themselves with the virtual certainty that the truth will ultimately be revealed?
What’s the common thread here?
We’ve all heard this phrase in some context, haven’t we?
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
Our pride will fight to the death to avoid embarrassment.
When Pope Gregory in the 6th century reduced the list of wicked human passions to seven, something we examined in 7 Deadly Sins | Are Pride & Envy Destroying Your Business? …
Pride was at the top of the list as the Mother of all Sins.
We convince ourselves that we can talk our way out of these predicaments. We think we can sufficiently obstruct any inquiries and easily exchange an unwelcome hit to our ego for a falsely constructed storyline.
After all, the various versions of the story are somewhat convoluted, there are few witnesses, and if we’re in a more senior position, we should prevail.
The root of the problem is we try to weasel our way out of it
That decision is the root of the problem.
That logic suggests the wrong course of action … that we should consider our alternatives, and weigh whether our story is sufficiently powerful to lay the blame elsewhere to avoid any embarrassment.
Apart from this ethical washout, countless examples have shown that the more we deny, the more people dig — and that truth ultimately emerges to not only spoil our narrative but point to our shortcomings as Leaders Worth Following.
Our humiliation is profound and converts what may have been only a mild rebuke following a simple mistake and honest admission, to a career-ending injury.
We create more problems than we solve
We create more problems than we imagine when we fail to admit our mistakes at the earliest possible moment.
At that point, the road to recovery becomes very treacherous as we scramble for stable footing in a combat zone we have created.
Too bad, because the road to recovery can be a very simple one.
The Power of Admitting Our Mistakes
For so many leaders, there’s a tendency to believe they always need to be right.
The admission of error is considered a weakness, a debilitating acknowledgement that …
I’m always right” … and if I’m not, I’ll never tell.
That’s what happens when you look through the wrong end of the telescope.
Let’s turn it around and see the many advantages of admitting our mistakes.
Honesty Is An Integral Part Of Our Integrity.
Before we get there, let’s be clear about one thing.
You have no chance of being an Effective Leader who anyone will follow unless your integrity is worn on your sleeve.
Denying even one mistake, regardless of how detectable it may be to others, is the first step down a slippery slope that will irreparably damage your reputation and any chance you have of being that Leader Worth Following.
So, instead of thinking about the downside of admitting your mistakes … the possible embarrassment and the acknowledgment of your imperfections … consider The 6 Powerful Benefits of Admitting Our Mistakes.
1. It’s More Effective to Fix Mistakes Fast
In most organizations, fixing mistakes consumes a lot of time. That’s one of the problems of having humans working in organizations.
Admitting it and resolving it quickly can prevent countless problems down the road.
Almost always, the quicker a mistake is fixed, the smaller its impact and the more quickly the organization can recover and move forward.
It may be too late to recover if the mistake persists and it’s never brought to the surface.
2. Add Another Brick to the Accountable Organization You’re Creating
In Accountability | What Does It Really Mean?, I explain Accountability as a “willingness to accept responsibility for our actions”.
If you want to build an accountable organization … I’ll add that without it, your chances of success are pretty dismal … you need to “walk the walk”.
Since you’re in the Spotlight of Leadership, your behavior will demonstrate to everyone exactly what’s expected … and how they’re expected to behave.
There’s no more powerful example you can set to build an Accountable Organization than to demonstrate the value of honesty and the power of admitting your mistakes.
3. Who Doesn’t Love Redemption?
For the most part, while we relish the fall of the mighty, we also welcome their redemption.
We know that we’ve made mistakes, and we absolutely believe we should be given a second chance.
That conviction seeps into the crevices of your organizational culture and sends a powerful message to everyone that you can admit your mistakes, fix them and move on.
No harm. No foul. Next!
4. Oh, What a Relief It Is
Another benefit we earn is the relief from the crippling weight of the sandbags of denial and deceit that undermine our health and humanity.
Keeping the denial going is liking tossing another pebble in our backpack.
It seems minor and doesn’t weigh much, but when the mound of pebbles starts to grow and you’re carrying that backpack around 24/7, it becomes an overwhelming burden … and the kind of crippling stress that ends careers … and lives.
5. Embrace Authenticity At All Costs
Authenticity is top of mind more than ever these days … and honesty is at the top of the list of what’s required for Authenticity.
As I discuss in How Can I Be Sure You’re Not Faking Authenticity?, when someone questions our authenticity, we get a little defensive … and the temptation to “lie and deny” can become overwhelming.
You can get away with a lot these days (Ferris Bueller) … stumble while giving a speech, lose your train of thought, make mistakes …. but if you’re authentic, you’ll get a hall pass for all of it.
6. Vulnerability isn’t Weak. It’s Powerful
It seems we’ve heard much more about vulnerability lately as a powerful leadership attribute.
Vulnerability is the kissing cousin of Authenticity, and both of them are powerful weapons in the arsenal of Leadership.
More leaders every day learn that the 1–2-Punch of Vulnerability & Authenticity humanizes us. It makes us more approachable, encouraging those around us to be themselves, make mistakes and know that mistakes are the natural offspring of trying.
For good reason, Brené Brown’s popular TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability is in the Top 5 most popular TED talks of all time with more than 28 million views.
The Road to Recovery
When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. ~ Will Rogers
It’s a simple list once you decide that the truth WILL set you free:
- Admit your mistake.
- Welcome the correction.
- Accept disciplinary action.
- Live with the pain.
- Shut up.
- Learn from your mistakes.
- Move on.
Question: What’s the biggest mistake you owned up to in your organization? What happened when you did?
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