Is it wise for a boss to admit a mistake?
It is over two decades ago, when I was discussing with a very street-wise sales manager a mistake he had made. His answer was direct. I should invoke the system of the Israeli air-force, where he had been a junior officer. And what was that, I asked, wondering what pearl of wisdom I was about to hear.
“If you make a mistake, shout back. And if it is a huge mistake, shout louder.”
Well, I had no answer to that, and off he strutted, no doubt smiling triumphantly to himself. (And today, he is the DG of a large travel company).
I was reminded about the incident twice this weekend. My good friend, Jonathan Gabay, quoting the author J.K. Rowling, observed: The best of us must sometimes eat our words. When you’re wrong, ensure the next words you utter aim to rebuild your identity, reputation, and relationships.
Fair enough, but how does that help us to be a good leader in the work situation? Dr Robert Brooks neatly answered the question in his latest blog. And it is worth taking a moment to ponder the depth of the statement.
It is difficult to learn from someone who never acknowledged mistakes in contrast to a leader who as one man described, “comfortably discussed his feelings of vulnerability and his struggles with mistakes.” Words used to describe the former varied, including arrogant, insecure, power hungry, a true denier, while the latter was seen as secure, comfortable in their own skin, empathic, comforting.
In my work as a business coach and mentor, I come up against this issue all the time. And, of course I can drag ethics into the discussion as well. The best practical and immediate illustration I can provide, which substantiates what Brooks has to say, is on the matter of delivering presentations.
Now, just about all of us at some point in time have to prepare a speech – for the department, for investors, for visitors, etc. The question is how to deal with questions, especially the tough ones or those that you do not know the answer to.
I always teach that the response should be an honest one. “I don’t know”; or, “I will need to check that statement before commenting”; Do not try to wing it, because sooner or later you will be found out. And that is you and your respect busted on the spot.