John C. Maxwell once stated. “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” When we talk about Leadership, Taking Ownership is the most essential quality of any leader. Most of the time I’ve seen people start finding faults on others, blame on the situations and circumstances. Without question, every person makes mistakes. From the rookie new to the job to experienced executives, mistakes happen. It is part of what makes us human. The key issue is how we deal with them – both for the leader who made the mistake and also for whom the mistake was made.
Leaders don’t seek or welcome mistakes, yet by its very nature, mistakes offer a gift to leaders who rise to the challenge and reinvent themselves and their organizations. Almost anyone can lead but not many can lead and take responsibility when issues go awry. True leaders take responsibility and build confidence and trust instead of blaming fate, the economy, politics, customers, shippers, taxes etc. They control what they can control and cope with the rest. Leaders seem to know or learn that a sense of control over our situations defines one of the most basic of human needs. When we feel in control of a situation, we feel empowered and focused. When we don’t, we get discouraged, and in the worst-case scenario, we start to feel like victims or aggressors.
And there are many that operate from the notion that failure is not an option. Oh yes it is. Failure is a perfect option and sometimes it does not require having to say you’re sorry. Many today would argue that America is not innovative. Many would argue that organizations are finding ways to make money rather than use money to make things. Mistakes make things. Our entire American history is paved from numerous failures. Columbus took the wrong route to America, Standish could not land the Mayflower in Virginia, Edison failed over 1000 times before he created the light bulb and Steve Jobs closed a company called NeXt because the software was way ahead of its time!
No matter what happens to us, no one else can tell us what to feel about it. When you realize you have power over how you respond, you take away the feeling of victimhood. Mistakes are not about victimhood they are about leading and learning. The more mistakes the more you learn.
When you uncover a mistake, admit it and move on. When you behave badly, apologize and move on. This sort of consistency will do more to build trust in your organization than any other singular activity. People want to know what you stand for. If you send conflicting messages and defend those who have done damage, you compromise good will. Organizations aren’t perfect and neither are the policies, procedures, practices and people. The concern is that many organizations attempt to seek perfection. There is no such thing. Seek success. Perfection does not exist and it creates arrogance and inconsistency. It illustrates I am better than you. Leaders do not control teams and they do not control leaders they work collaboratively to move the organization forward by serving its customers well.
When leaders make mistakes, it compromises attitude and willingness to work collaboratively. It establishes a “we” and “they” environment. We imagine dire consequences instead of objectively seeing mistakes as setbacks, not disasters. During times of adversity, there is much we can’t control, but what we can control is our attitude.
So when mistakes occur, acknowledge the issue, make the alterations and move on. Don’t deny seriousness but don’t blame people, external events, or the elusive “they”. And if you created the error leaders need to admit it to.
(c) 2011. Drew Stevens Ph.D. All rights reserved.