How Great Leaders Handle Their Own Mistakes

Some people have an image in their head of an infallible, super human leader who never makes mistakes. As much as we may revere executives, mentors, and high-level officers or politicians, we should never lose sight of the fact that they are human, and prone to error. If you are privileged enough to lead or manage others, it’s important that you deal with your own mistakes in an appropriate way.

Take Responsibility

Leaders should always own up to their mistakes. In fact, great leaders even go a step further: when blame must be assigned, a leader should take ultimate responsibility. Some people think this causes them to lose face or credibility. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Use it as a Teachable Opportunity

Effective leaders find the opportunity in every challenge or defeat. Rather than try to pass the buck to a subordinate by taking ownership of the mistake, they are likely to motivate others to move quickly to help them correct it. They will appreciate that you did not try to throw someone else under the bus, and that you’ve been honest.

Be Honest and Accurate

Speaking of honesty, a crucial part of owning up to your mistakes is being accurate about them. Don’t try to downplay the severity of the situation, and don’t try to make excuses. Own up to it and move on in a solution-oriented way. You should never say “It’s my fault…but.” Instead, you should say “It’s my fault…and” as in “It’s my fault, and I acknowledge that this sets our timetable back. I’m sorry about that. I know you’ve been working hard. Let’s try to make up the lost ground, and after we’ve done that, I’ll ask you to help me learn how not to make that mistake again.”

Ask Your Team How You Can Improve

Let’s go deeper into that last sentence. Great leaders understand that they must be lifelong learners. They also recognize that their best teachers will be their colleagues, whether they rank above or below them on the organizational chart. Most employees appreciate that their bosses used to perform a function like what they do now, but procedures may have changed since they were promoted. They will be happy to teach their superior something.

Everyone makes mistakes, but everyone deals with them differently. If you are in a position of leadership, drop the guise of infallibility. Your staff will appreciate it, and you may be surprised at the results!

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