To err is human. As we go through life, in any endeavor we are going to make mistakes from time to time. Even experienced professionals make mistakes in their field.
A mistake does not have to be a disaster, though. In fact, a mistake can strengthen your position as a leader and make the group you are a part of more cohesive. There are several reasons why a mistake can ultimately lead to better things in the future.
- Learn from your mistake. A mistake can be a great teacher. It is best to learn from others’ mistakes, of course, but when you make your own mistake, don’t miss the opportunity to grow from it.
- Earn respect. When admit you were wrong, you will earn the admiration of your colleagues. Admitting a mistake is hard and everyone knows it. When you show you can admit your own, people will notice and think better of you.
- Establish trust. If a person is honest about his or her mistakes, people will trust that they will be honest in other areas as well. This builds team cohesion.
- Lead by example. The best way to lead is with your own actions. If you want those who follow you to admit their mistakes and thereby improve the cohesiveness of your team, you can start by showing them how it is done.
- Face your fears. You can gain a great deal of personal growth by facing your fears. Everyone fears admitting a mistake. This is a chance to display your emotional maturity. There is no courage unless there is fear to overcome.
- Prevent larger problems. Don’t wait for mistakes to pile up and turn into a disaster. When you admit your mistake quickly, it allows for an earlier course correction, which avoids larger mistakes in the future.
- Get rid of your pride. Humility is important in a leader. People will follow a person they love and admire. Humility in the face of error earns the admiration of those you work with, and will help to cleanse you of your own pride. It makes admitting future mistakes that much easier.
- Improve relationships. Relationships sour when one party believes another party owes them an apology that never comes. Admitting a mistake smooths over hurt feelings and resentment.
- Gain defenders. Many people will flock to your defense when you admit your mistake. They will be moved by your humility and good judgment.
Sometimes, a mistake is minor and hardly needs more than a simple acknowledgement. Other times, a mistake is more damaging, or even involves a lack of good judgment. In many cases, you may owe someone or a group of people an apology for what you did or failed to do. No matter how much you may have learned from making a mistake, without a proper apology many people may not be ready to move on.
There is an appropriate way to apologize when the time comes. A poorly fashioned apology can sometimes be worse than the mistake, and worse than not apologizing at all. There are a number of factors that go into a true apology, one that mends the damage that has been done and allows for team and personal growth.
- Express remorse. Use the words, “I’m sorry.” It is important to use the first person. Don’t say an action was regrettable, and don’t use the passive voice. Mistakes were not made, YOU made a mistake. Be careful not to word it in a way that makes it seem like you are shifting blame.
- Explain what you are sorry for. You don’t want people to think you are not fully sorry for the entirety of the act, or that you are only sorry that your error was discovered. An apology comes with a reason. Make sure the people to whom you apologize are on the same page about what exactly you are sorry for.
- Take full responsibility. Apologize for what you said or did, or failed to say or do, and leave it there. When you try to explain what you did, it starts to sound like you are making excuses. It is best to simply admit you were wrong and fully own up to it.
- Don’t give a false apology. If you aren’t sorry, you aren’t ready to apologize yet. A false apology is never a convincing one. Instead, think back on the mistake and try to understand why and how this has affected others. When you are ready to make the apology, make it sincere.
- Don’t spread the blame around. Even if you were not the only one to blame for the mistake, don’t try to highlight anyone else’s role. Apologize for your part and leave it at that. If you start talking about the fault in others, it sounds like you are trying to duck the blame you have earned.
- Explain your new understanding. If you ever explain why you did something, be sure to follow it with how you realize that it was wrong now. Never let your apology get covered up with excuses. When you explain how you see things differently, you can follow with how you plan to do better in the future.
If you are a team leader, you may have to apologize for someone who works for you, even if you had nothing to do with the mistake and were not there. As a leader, you are ultimately responsible for your employees. If you apologize for an employee, apply the same rules as if you were apologizing for your own mistake. The apology needs to be sincere and you need to take responsibility.
A mistake, even a major one, can lead to growth and improvement. It can lead to your improvement as a person, a team member and a leader, it can improve relations and even performance in your group, and it can act as an important demonstration of what not to do and how not to do it.
When you make a mistake, own it. If an apology is warranted, make an honest one and do it the right way. It says a lot about you as a person, and that will only make you a better, more respected leader in the future.