Every leader in a position of power makes errors of omission and commission. Sometimes it’s hard to admit you were wrong, but if you have never had to do that, you’re lying to yourself or simply not challenging yourself to make difficult decisions.
One of my first bosses sat me down for a heart-to-heart after I screwed something up. He could tell almost immediately that what I had attempted to do hadn’t worked as I had anticipated. This savvy leader recognized that I might become gun-shy and start questioning my abilities. He told me in no uncertain terms that if I wanted to be a future leader, I would have to get on with it or make room for others and get out of the way. He added that if one hasn’t made some mistakes, they were either shirking responsibility by not taking enough chances or playing defense in a way that impeded innovation and success.
Accepting responsibility for poor judgment can make someone a better leader. It’s about taking your medicine when you’re wrong and hoping it doesn’t kill you. The best cure to avoid more unpleasant medicine is to focus diligently on not repeating the same mistake twice. It also leads to finding ways to make amends and holding yourself accountable. Doing so “humanizes” you in the eyes of those with whom you work because, most times, they know a wrong decision when they see one.
My technique to avoid previous missteps is maintaining an electronic folder (paper will also do) and chronicling when I committed one of those meaningful faux pas. The first step to moving beyond self-imposed purgatory is to make amends going forward by applying the lessons learned from similar blunders I committed, or those others made under my auspices.
Instinctively, most good leaders try to get it right the second time around. A good example is if you prejudge an associate, perhaps not verbally, but by questioning their appearance, you start questioning their work. As we’ve all learned, appearances can be deceiving. How often have you shot down an idea solely because the person presenting it didn’t fit the mold or, worse, your mood? Maybe they were a bit too confident or not confident enough. To overcome this type of snap bias and get it right the second time around, I go out of my way to look for early signs of untapped or hidden attributes, remembering I had been guilty of past superficial judgments. The payoff of doing this is that I’ve discovered some outstanding associates by not prejudging and instead letting one’s work speak for itself.
Finding oneself guilty of bad judgment is essential to the learning experience. Awareness of one’s fallibility improves critical thinking and enables a manager to examine alternatives in real-time, frequently before a flawed conclusion is acted upon.
There is a cathartic effect when you drop your defenses and worry less about always appearing to have the correct answers, even though deep down inside, you know that you don’t. Owning up to mistakes and making appropriate amends can reduce your self-inflicted sentence of doubt based on a flawed decision or misstep. ●
Visit Michael Feuer’s website www.TipsFromTheTop.info to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”