The Power of Admitting A Mistake
Confucius said, “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” Yet, many times when a mistake is made, people try to pretend that it did not happen. They attempt to justify the wrong position or try to cover it up, which leads to additional mistakes. This situation reminds me of another quote — “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
“If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” -Confucius
Quite often, more damage is done to credibility, relationships, trust and integrity by the actions taken after the original mistake. This is true in personal relationships and especially true when a leader makes a mistake. How many times have we seen high-profile people get prosecuted, not for the original crime, but for the attempt to cover it up by lying?
Of course there is another choice when a mistake is made—admit it, learn from it, correct it and apologize to those that were adversely affected. There is power in properly admitting a mistake.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” -Albert Einstein
Why Admit a Mistake?
Rather than try to ignore or cover up a mistake, there can be many personal and organizational advantages to properly admitting a mistake.
- Averts the need to continue to defend a difficult or incorrect position.
- Increases leadership credibility.
- Avoids additional mistakes trying to cover up or “adjust” for the original mistake.
- Reduces personal stress and tension.
- Provides a “reset” from others in both personal and professional relationships.
- If you take responsibility for a mistake on-behalf of others who participated, it builds loyalty.
“Admitting and correcting mistakes does not make you look weak; it actually makes you look stronger.” –Bruce Rhoades
- Provides a learning situation for you and others.
- Builds trust—others see that you are human, honest and truthful.
- Allows quick correction, which saves time and resources.
- Gives others a chance to express views and provide new information.
- Shows others that they are valued and that their input counts, which builds collaboration.
- Increases the organization’s ability to try new things then quickly stop those that do not work, which helps establish an innovative culture.
- Sets the tone for risk-taking, open communication and makes you more approachable.
- Provides concrete examples to reinforce critical aspects of culture: decisiveness, truthfulness, openness, integrity and quick correction.
- Removes the “elephant-in-the-room” situation where everyone knows about the mistake, but no one talks about it.
- Helps offset the bad feelings for those that may have wasted their time.
- Decreases “pocket-vetoes” when others see the mistake, do not confront it, but simply do not implement.
“As a leader it is a mistake to think that you need to have all the right answers all the time.” – Bruce Rhoades