“Sweetheart, I don’t think you’re putting it together right.”
My wife hadn’t been in the room for two minutes. I looked up from the headboard I was assembling for our daughter’s new bed and just stared at her.
It was late, I’d had a long day, and I simply didn’t have the patience to walk her through how these complicated man-things work, so I pointed to the instruction manual and asked her to look at it herself.
It took her about 5 seconds to show me the picture that proved she was right and I was wrong.
I felt the emotions flare up inside me. Embarrassment. Anger. Frustration. I let out a sigh and said, “I’ll get the other pieces.” It was a good 20 minutes before I could say to her, “You were right. I was wrong. Thanks for saying something. If you hadn’t come along when you did, I would have been so frustrated when I got the whole thing together and discovered it was wrong.”
Even as I spoke those words, the emotions were still simmering inside. It was hours before the sting truly faded. But as a leader, I’m obliged to respond when others need me to respond, not when I get around to feeling like it. Looking back, I’m disappointed it took me 20 minutes.
Throughout life, we gather a bunch of unwritten rules, subconsciously accepting them as true. One I see all the time is the idea that leaders must always have the right answer and never admit they are wrong—otherwise people might lose confidence in them. This is just baloney. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Trust. Trust is the currency of leadership—the more someone trusts you, the more influence you have with them. Nothing builds trust faster than admitting your mistakes and proving you don’t have an inflated view of yourself. The people I trust and respect most in my life are the ones who are the most open and honest about their shortcomings and failures.
2. Growth. You will only grow to the extent that you can admit your mistakes. It’s a rate determining step. If you don’t fully acknowledge when you screw up, then you’re incapable of dealing with the root cause of your issues. If you’re not learning, you’re coasting. As I heard Don Miller say recently, “if you’re coasting, you’re going downhill.”
3. Innovation. If you can’t admit when you’re wrong, then odds are you’re afraid of failure. Maybe you’re afraid of damaging your own self-image. Maybe you’re afraid of diminishing your reputation. Whatever the reason, fear of failure inhibits your ability to take risks—and risks are required for innovation. You’ll also impede your team’s ability to innovate, because they will take their risk-taking cues from you.
4. Encouragement. If you can’t say, “I was wrong,” then you’ll never get the chance to say, “you were right.” If you want followers who feel good about themselves, believe in themselves, and are bringing their very best to the team, you must jump at every chance to encourage them. You can’t be on the lookout for their success if you’re preoccupied with your own.
5. Empowerment. If I fail to admit my mistakes and respond to correction for long enough (and it doesn’t take that long), the people around me are going to stop speaking up. If I maintain a persona of leadership perfection, I become unapproachable. They won’t tell me about the game-changing new idea they have, or the opportunity they see arising, or the threat looming in my blind spot.
Objectively speaking, most of us care more about doing a job right—and doing right by our people—than actually being right. So next time you screw up, do yourself and those around you a favor: admit it.
How do you think admitting your faults helps or hinders your leadership?