Culture, Leadership

3 Steps to Help You Own Up When You Make The Big Mistake

Mistakes1

“We know we were sloppy. We know we were stupid. We know there was bad judgment. We don’t know if any of that is true yet. Of course regulators should look at something like this, that’s their jobs. So we are totally open to regulators and they will come to their own conclusions. But we intend to fix it and learn from it.”

That statement was from CEO Jamie Dimon of JP MorganChase on taking responsibility for the massive loss of $2 billion that happened in the past six weeks.

This post will in no way attempt to even go to show how this massive amount of money was lost. But, I will go to where more leaders and managers should also go. “We” (or “I”) made a mistake is a profound statement that all of us from time to time are guilty for not having in our vocabulary. Just a few words, sincerely stated, goes a long way towards making amends.

A teachable moment

It is a statement that gives us an opportunity to grow up and act like a leader. As simple as that sounds, it is heavy lifting for a lot of us.

JP MorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon

As a matter of fact, Jamie Dimon has been viewed throughout this economic morass as the supreme leader, the fair-haired boy who could do no wrong. When you spoke of banking’s supreme leader, his name would always pop up. Yet, he did not appear to flinch in making this statement.

The courage to admit to this massive mistake freed the entire culture within JPMorgan Chase. From the mailroom vertically up through the board, they all got a valuable lesson as to what it means to lead people. Yes, we read books, attend seminars, and follow thought leaders on the topic of leadership.

But such a simple statement is a huge and powerful quote that teaches more than all the 76,000 books listed on Amazon on the topic of leadership.

Creating a friendly culture for mistakes

What the employees of this bank have seen is the planting of a positive atmosphere within their company. And when I mention leaders, I am talking about anyone in the company that manages people. Model the behavior that you wish to instill in your team. Foster an atmosphere that says, hey, it is not the end of the world, even looking at a $2 billion loss.

The key to managing is that you have to pay attention, notice and then reward the good behavior. This model will result in the bad behavior disappearing within the culture of your organization.

In this climate people have become terrified of being wrong so much so that it causes us to do crazy things. We make excuses; blame someone and that old standby: shift blame.

My very good friend, psychologist Dr. Ben Dattner, has written a powerful book called The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure.

His book talks about workplaces that foster a blaming culture. That could be a blaming boss or a colleague who takes credit for others work and as a result, individuals are scapegoated, teams fall apart, projects get derailed and people become disengaged because fear and resentment have taken root. This book takes us through the dynamics of human psychology that can inoculate and defuse the resulting tension from blaming and taking credit.

You know it and so does everyone else

One thing that I have noticed is that the vast majority of time people know when a mistake has been made. Not only that but everyone knows who made it. Accepting responsibility for your part shows leadership integrity and starts the process of building trust, as opposed to the opposite effect of tearing it down.

We have become so success-driven that making a mistake is seen as something to be ashamed of. More effort is spent coming up with a bogus explanation for what happened rather than being proactive in trying to fix the problem that created it.

Aside from the practical implications of admitting our mistakes (whether to ourselves, others, or both), as people of integrity we know it is the right thing to do. Only when we take responsibility for our mistakes can we start to properly fix them. And, owning up to our mistakes is the only viable, long-term solution to correcting them and learning from them.

More often than not, mistakes are discovered. Wouldn’t you rather be seen as an upstanding leader, who acknowledged the flaw in his actions and proactively did something about it, rather than one who is confronted with the mistake, which you initially deny until facts prove otherwise?

3 quick steps of confronting mistakes

  1. Everyone makes them so don’t be afraid. Take a look at the risk involved, as a way of self-analysis, so you get an idea of what could go wrong.
  2. When the inevitable happens, own up to it. Use the opportunity to grow and become the leader you want to be.
  3. Take some time to analyze the situations. Be as proactive as possible in finding a solution so that you can avoid the same type mistakes in the future.

The big “M” is a gift. It is an opportunity to show strength and learn from it. Unwrap it, embrace it, and find the learning point.

Ron Thomas is a human resources officer currently based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He formerly was director, talent and human resources solutions at Buck Consultants (a Xerox Company) and is certified by the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). He's also worked in senior HR roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. Ron serves on the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He also serves as a faculty partner and executive facilitator at the Human Capital Institute. He has received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence by the World Human Resource Development Congress in Mumbai. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com or on Twitter.
  • jonbaker

    How very true. The positive impact of a leader admitting mistakes (as long as it’s not all the time) and allowing others in the organisation to do so is huge. Ultimately in customer service, to be told “sorry we messed up, let me fix it” is so much better than the flannel one normally gets.