When a Leader Makes a Mistake

Hardly any one would argue the fact that possessing and demonstrating integrity as a leader is a highly desirable trait.  But what does integrity look like when the team leader drops the ball or failed to follow through as promised?  Is being “real” about errors in judgment or practice a wise choice?  In this final installment on purposeful work/leadership – we examine that scenario.  True North, you may recall from previous posts – is a fixed guidance system – the Polaris or North star; whereas a compass reading of north – is a variable impacted by a number of factors.

Compass Reading: You may believe that if you blow it, it is better to play it cool. Perhaps, the people following you won’t notice or if you talk in circles about a delayed decision or a dropped ball, they will eventually shrug their shoulders and say, “Whatever.” You believe it is the supervisor’s responsibility and burden to “protect people” from bad news and to “play down” your mistakes, after all, you’re the mentor.
True-North Reading: The truth is – you will blow it. Daily. Most of the people who report to you are not fooled and they do care. It generally seems safer politically for the employee to pretend not to notice or care. Instead, take advantage of those “dropped balls” and use them as yet another opportunity to “be real”.

Earn respect and be credible when you make a mistake. Own it. Work out a solution. And then, get over it. Your team will. Quickly. Why?

Because they have learned from watching your actions that they can count on you to be authentic. You have become a role model demonstrating how they should act when they blow it (in case you haven’t noticed they will make mistakes, daily).

Rather than “protecting people” from news that is less than favorable, in most cases it is wise to let them be a part of the remedy.

Application: Being authentic and dropping the mask is a pretty rare quality. It has everything to do with character and nothing to do politics. I’ve spent over 18 years providing performance consulting and I can tell you that one of the greatest challenges executives’ face is being willing to show enough vulnerability to earn the respect and loyalty of their customers (both internal and external).

I’m not advocating, for a daily unloading of faults and foibles. I am challenging you however to be the kind of leader that you wish that you would have had throughout your career. The individual who not just teaches you the ropes, but also shows you the scars from rope-burns and is wise enough to learn from you as well.

Quote: “Real generosity to the future lies in giving all to the present.”—Albert Camus

Conclusion:  Since you most likely will be spending almost ¾’s of your adult life working, I encourage you to not simply survive your career. Rather than spending your time in a blur of activity . . . Pause. Reflect.

Forge ahead; true north to living a life of significance and making a positive impact on those around you.  Find your Polaris and engage, no, invest yourself in choosing to be a leader who is on-purpose.