To err is human; to be accountable for that mistake is leadership.
On the morning of last Christmas Eve, my husband, daughters, and I were in full-on Team GSD mode.
In a few hours, we’d be hosting my side of the family for a Christmas dinner, celebrating together early since we’d be heading off for vacation, taking an early flight to Costa Rica on the day after the holiday.
We set the table, cleaned the house, and prepped the meal.
As part of our pre-departure planning, each of us was uploading international travel documents. Our seventeen-year-old daughter came to me because she had some trouble and kept getting an error message when she entered her passport number.
When I opened her passport, I immediately spotted the issue: it had expired last April.
I informed my husband, and after a few choice words I won’t put in print, he miraculously found a way to rectify the situation by altering our destination and keeping our vacation. (He’s a rockstar.)
But that wasn’t before he cursed himself for making the error. As chief vacation planner, my husband takes pride in organizing amazing getaways. To his credit, he immediately took full ownership of the hiccup, even consoling our tearful daughter, who told the rest of us we should go without her. (Not a chance.)
Whether in life or business, we’ve all been there: that awful moment when we realize we’ve screwed up.
When you make a mistake, the best thing you can do is to be accountable and own it immediately. Here’s why:
You’ll avoid misunderstandings.
You can have clear and open communication about what went wrong and why and diffuse any possible miscommunication.
It demonstrates your vulnerability—and strength.
It takes courage to admit when you’ve screwed up and face possible judgment and ridicule. Insecure leaders try to cover up their mistakes; confident leaders aren’t afraid to own them.
By acknowledging your mistakes, you’ll learn from them instead of repeating them.
The finest leaders view a “failure” as an opportunity to learn something new. They understand that they’re doomed to repeat a mistake and can’t learn from it unless they first acknowledge it.
It showcases your true leadership colors.
Taking responsibility sends a clear message about your character, integrity, and authenticity. You demonstrate intellectual humility, the willingness to recognize that what you think and believe might be wrong.
It signals to others that you’re human—and they can be, too.
Owning up to your shortcomings signals that yours is an open and collaborative culture in which it’s okay to be imperfectly human.
Remember, to err is human; to be accountable for that mistake is leadership.
Another thing that makes us human?
But according to one of my favorite authors, Daniel Pink,* it also makes us better.
One of the areas I see a plethora of writing boo-boos is business correspondence. If you’re trying to avoid making a mistake in that arena, don’t worry; I’ve got you.
In my latest Forbes article, I share the five best ways to improve your written communication.
And hey, if you’re a leader, the best way to deal with your team’s mistakes is through empathy.
I recently partnered with Forbes to shoot three Leadership Lessons videos based on my articles; the first is about using that soft skill to build stronger teams.
Shine on, my perfectly imperfect friends!
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P.P.P.S. When I’m not writing this newsletter or owning up to my mistakes, I’m a social media ghostwriter. (Yep, that’s a thing). I help founders, entrepreneurs, and CXOs craft their stories to communicate and connect better by magnifying their reach and impact. (Think personal branding and thought leadership.) Learn more here.
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*If you haven’t ordered your copy of Dan Pink’s latest book, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, this is your sign to DO. IT. NOW! This may be the fangirl in me talking, but every book Dan writes is smart, insightful, and thought-provoking. He effortlessly combines storytelling, research, and humor to provide real-world takeaways and ideas to make your world a better place. 10/10 recommend.