Regardless of an individual’s leadership style, ego and hidden agendas should never get in the way of owning up to mistakes. Leaders do not have any responsibility to be right 100 percent of the time, and their employees do not expect this. Instead, employees look for leaders to admit their mistakes, learn from them, and keep momentum moving forward. The best leaders quickly identify the expertise available on their team and defer to people who know more about a given subject when problems arise. Doing so does not undermine the leader’s expertise. Instead, it instills greater confidence him or her.
All great leaders have made mistakes and, more importantly, they have all admitted to them. Ultimately, the insight collected after a bad decision teaches them invaluable lessons and makes them better leaders. This transparency fosters trust, but it does not, of course, forgive recklessness.
A number of important reasons exist to be open and honest about personal failures, especially for leaders. Some of the most important points to keep in mind include the following:
Leaders are nothing without respect.
People do not demand perfection from leaders, but they do expect honesty. Leaders who admit to their mistake earn the respect of their employees and create an environment of openness and transparency. In short, leaders need to own up to their mistakes to set an example for others on the team. If the leader will not admit a mistake, then the team may get the impression that failure is unacceptable, which creates an environment that inhibits progress.
Getting ahead in today’s competitive business world means taking calculated risks and accepting the consequences of failure. Such failure should be seen as an important learning point, not something to hide. When failures are covered up, they are likely to be repeated, which just wastes valuable time and resources.
Leaders who never have to admit a mistake because they have not made one are leaders who are playing it too safe. This sort of safety will not give the company a competitive advantage, nor will it earn the respect of employees. Respect comes from challenging the status quo and daring to do something different in a careful, calculated way, and then owning the results, whether they are good or bad.
Admitting mistakes builds trust.
When leaders admit to a mistake, they are inherently expressing their trust in the team. This trust, in turn, signals that they are trustworthy. Importantly, leaders need to extend the same courtesy to members of their team when they make a mistake and give them time to own up to the error and learn from it. Through this mutual display of confidence, trust becomes engrained in the culture of the team. Then, the entrepreneurial spirit grows. Nobody wants surprises in the workplace, and a culture of trust does much to alleviate the anxiety of the unknown.
For example, consider a work environment in which trust does not exist. An employee may fear making a mistake and then actively try to cover up a problem. In the meantime, the problem grows larger, and the leader only becomes aware of it when it is too great to fix. If there was a bond of trust between the team member and the leader, the employee would’ve felt comfortable bringing the potential problem to the table, and the whole team could have worked together for a solution. This process embodies the entrepreneurial spirit, in which blame is not important and progress is the goal.
Vulnerability makes teams stronger.
Leaders who admit to mistakes publicly become models of a unique form of accountability that may eventually be adopted by the whole team. In time, all members of the team will learn the value of having each other’s backs. When the leader models this behavior, others will likely follow suit.
Vulnerability sounds like a negative thing, but it is actually a sign of strong leadership. Many leaders avoid vulnerability because they worry how it will change the ways in which others perceive them. Perhaps the greatest fear is that it will somehow undermine their authority and their executive presence. Real confidence manifests in vulnerability, and employees understand this fact innately.
Leaders who hide behind their title and point blame at others to protect hide their vulnerability undermine the team’s strength by pitting employees against each other and destroying any sense of trust and respect. A barrier begins to grow between leaders and their teams. However, when leaders are honest in their vulnerability, they encourage employees to follow suit.
Employees want to know that their leaders have faced similar challenges and had similar failures on the road to their current position. More importantly, they want help when they face these challenges from leaders that have already learned important lessons from their own failures. When everyone, including leaders, shares these lessons, the whole team becomes more resilient.