Yes, Strong Leaders Are Willing to Admit When They’re Wrong

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Jan 10, 2014

We had no control over that project in our department.” “Upper management made those decisions.”

Competitors forced us into those arrangements.” “Those policies are set by the government/industry regulators/committee.

If it were my decision, I’d handle it differently.” “I wasn’t given a say in the matter.”

Shirkers suffer credibility gaps. Yet, when the tough questions are raised, these responses roar back:

Why you should own up when you’re wrong

I had no knowledge of the situation.“This is the first time I’ve seen this report.” “I’m not sure who put these numbers together.” “This really is not in my area of responsibility.”

Politicians call it deniability. Employers just call it passing the buck — a human foible that has been around since Adam gave Eve a difficult time about the apple.

So why admit mistakes? Why own up when bad things are your responsibility to clean up?

  • It builds credibility for times when you’re right. People push when they smell bluff and guff. Admitting an error is a simple principle, easy to remember, easy to accomplish — but difficult for some people to swallow. Yet nothing makes people believe you faster when you’re telling the truth than their having witnessed you owning up to your responsibilities and mistakes when wrong.
  • It shows respect for others. The saying, “I hear what you’re saying, and you have a right to be wrong if you want to” serves as the motto for those who cannot admit a mistake. To continue to insist that no fault lies at your own door in the face of all evidence to the contrary displays a belief in the utter ignorance of those you’re addressing. The act of insisting on your own “truth” disregards all other evidence, opinions, and reasoning.
  • It demonstrates humility. Language and the ability to entertain the idea that you could be wrong shows poise, confidence, and emotional self-mastery.
  • It leads the way for others to be honest. The strength to admit mistakes allows peers and subordinates the freedom to do the same.
  • It strengthens your leadership. Skirting responsibility is expected, but not often respected. People admire leaders with the integrity to accept responsibility for mistakes, decisions, and results.

Fear the leader who sees no fault in him or herself. And pity the leader who cannot communicate when he or she is wrong.

This was originally published on Dianna Booher’s Booher Banter blog.

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