Even Leaders Make Mistakes – And What To Do About Them by Cindy Stradling CSP, CSL
There are two different patterns of behavior for those in leadership when it comes to dealing with their own mistakes. There are those in leadership who ignore their own mistakes, try to blame the error on someone else, or who simply refuse to accept that a mistake was even made. These leaders, over time, are not trusted by the teams or employees, and they are seen as insecure, ineffective, and extremely challenging to work with and for.
There is another group of leaders, and this one is very different. These are the leaders that accept they make mistakes. They acknowledge the mistake, take responsibility, and handle the issue by making an apology or correcting the issue in a way that is consistent with values, ethics, policy, and best practices.
This second type of leader is the role model for what is expected from everyone in an organization. They create a leadership and corporate environment where trust is developed and promoted, and people take responsibility for their own choices, decisions, and behavior.
In creating this type of workplace culture, leaders have to become aware of how they handle mistakes, and what they do after they have made a mistake. Taking the time to consider how you want to act and how you want others to see you during these types of situations is critical to have a plan in place.
Accepting responsibility may also be seen as having the grace and the courage to acknowledge your error. Leaders who can do this do not try to point the finger of blame at someone or something else. They accept it happened, acknowledge it to those involved in the situation, and work collaboratively with the team to correct the problem.
In some cases, the leader may recognize the mistake or error before anyone else notices. This is a time to fight the instinct to try to cover up the problem or put it on someone else’s list of mistakes. It is the time to bring it to the attention of those impacted and those further up the hierarchy in the company that need to be informed.
As a leader, you make a lot of decisions and speak to many people every day. Some of those conversations and decisions are about critical issues, and others are minor and less related to work and job-related performance issues.
When a leader makes a mistake in a less critical area, perhaps in the tone of a conversation or a misstatement, sending an email and acknowledging the mistake can be highly effective and meaningful for the other person.
In a Conversation or Meeting
If you make a mistake in a conversation, in a meeting, or when talking to anyone in the company, it is natural to acknowledge the mistake and make the correction on the spot. A simple,”I am sorry, I misspoke, and here is the correct information…” is a good way to show respect for all involved.
Sometimes, significant mistakes happen. When this occurs, sending an email is too informal and may be seen by the person as a way to duck admitting the issue. Instead, ask to schedule a meeting outside of your office and start out the conversation with a genuine apology.
Saying you are sorry and explicitly identifying what you did wrong shows acknowledgment as well as respect for the other person, and it helps to start to rebuild the relationship, which is what apologizing is all about.