I was sitting in a meeting one time, and in that meeting we were discussing an issue that had come up with one of our employees. The employee had screwed up. No one was really arguing that point. What was being discussed was whose fault the screw up was. (Why, oh why, do we spend so much time in discussions like that?) As the discussion dragged on, Training and Development became the easiest target. Well, duh–anytime someone messes up, it’s obviously because they weren’t trained well, right? (I hope you’re picking up the sarcasm, ’cause I’m laying it on pretty thick.)
So I started asking some questions. How long has the employee been here? Two years. How many times have they messed this particular thing up? None that we’re aware of. Did the employee fix the mistake? Yes, after she realized it. Had the employee’s manager worked with the employee on this facet of their job at all since the employee emerged from the new hire training that would have covered that particular thing almost two years ago? No, not that I know of.
I just sat there looking at the executive that had been providing me the answers, waiting for it to click. In my own pride, I really wanted to hear her say that she was wrong, because I sure as heck knew she was. (You see the irony here, right? I had the same arrogant attitude; it was just manifesting itself differently.) So I waited. And nothing. This executive kept going on about the training, and I kept thinking to myself, and then saying out loud, How can you not see that this isn’t a training thing? How can you not see that this is the predictable result of one of your managers being completely hands-off with an employee?
It was an exercise in futility. I mean humility. Or maybe it was both.
Leadership has to be this very human thing. People use all sorts of adjectives to describe how leaders should be: authentic, real, vulnerable, etc. The gist is that we need leaders who are human. Flawed. Imperfect. Humble. One big piece of this lies in admitting faults.
Leaders have to admit faults. Why is it so hard to do this? It could be a pride thing, sure; but it could also be that it’s simply hard, as a human being, to admit you’re wrong. No one that I know of especially enjoys doing that. I know it’s not at the top of my list of things to do. I’m sure most of you are the same. There’s very little worse than that moment in an argument or discussion when you realize that you are, in fact, wrong. Then you just hope the other person or people don’t realize it in time to capitalize on it. (Don’t lie…you know you do it too…)
But why not let your team know that you know you’re wrong from time to time? Do you really want them to think that you think you’re always right? Do you really want them to be under the impression that you think you’re the smartest person in whatever room you happen to be in? Please, please, please, don’t do that.
You need to admit your faults. Not only does it help you become more appropriately human and “real,” it also inspires trust and confidence. When your team knows that you know you’re not perfect, and when they see that you have the humility to admit it, it becomes easier for people to work with and for you. You can roll up your collective sleeves and work together, as humans. Your team can see that you care more about the team and the organization than you do about being right all the time.
So embrace being a flawed human being, admit you’re wrong, and let your team see you do it.