“That’s my bad” can be commonly said when a person declares to others that they have made a mistake . Being able to willingly admit that we made a mistake is a mark of a great leader.
The National Football League and Major League Baseball are all in full swing right now. The guys who play these games are the elite of the elite in their professions. As you tune into the games, watch what happens when a defensive back blows an assignment or a short stop boots a ball. They generally follow it with the universal sign for ownership of a mistake, a series of pats on their chest that signals to the world, that’s my bad.” They are taking ownership of the mistake in the process.
As leaders, we should be considered the elite of the elite in our respective professions. So…guess what? We make mistakes. There are two areas we make mistakes in, one is the world of management, the other is the world of leadership. Management missteps surround things and processes. Leadership mistakes negatively impact people, our greatest resource we have entrusted to us.
There are three simple things leaders can do to own a mistake when it comes to leading people:
Here is the deal with poor leadership that contributes to people mistakes, the other person already knows it happened. It is always the right thing and never the wrong time time to declare the mistake. Even if it takes us a minute to come to grips with it, take the apology to them in advance of them having to come to you with the hurt, dismay, and discouragement that comes with it. Declaring it with clear ownership will create a better outcome of an already bad situation.
Openly declaring our shortfall comes in handy when we lead poorly. These moments of poor people leadership are when we say the wrong thing out of frustration, use our words to discourage rather than encourage, when we tear down with criticism, or prove ourselves incapable of listening because we always seem to have the better idea. I could go on and on about mistakes I have made in leading people!
It is tremendously impactful when we can follow up and take advance ownership of these mistakes. It means a lot more when a leader addresses their own poor behavior rather than the team member having to do it for us. When you openly declare it, it is more genuine which leads to the apology being received better. Get ahead of it, just declare it.
Don’t Repeat It
I coached youth wrestling for a long time. There are a few mistakes you can make that will lead to you getting pinned, a bad thing in wresting. One of those is called reaching back. After a kid suffered the consequences of reaching back during a match, we coached them up and taught them how to prevent it from happening again. The second and third time they got the “Speech.” I would pull them aside and ask them a question. “If your parent was cooking, and you reached up and touched the hot stove and burned your hand, would you do it again?” It was not a trick question, the answer was no!
Even though we mature as adults, we can sometimes be tempted to reach up and touch the hot stove again. Instead of just sleeping on that email before hitting send, deleting the text after we have typed it out, offering encouragement over criticism, or failing to bite our tongues and let it go, we touch the hot stove again. Maybe we think the message will be received better this time or the result will be different. It never is!
When it comes to leading people, all of us will make mistakes. It’s the ones that hurt our people that need NOT be repeated. There are only so many near misses we get before we influence them in the direction of poor performance or another organization. Once we declare it, don’t repeat it.
Know You Are Not Perfect
Here are five words that should bring you great comfort…none of us are perfect. We will all fall short of our ultimate responsibility to lead our teams well. Leaders are imperfect people who have the opportunity to make a big impact in this world. I have, you have, and we have all made mistakes. Unless we have a character flaw, none of us ever intend to inflict damage on the hearts of the people we lead.
Legendary coach, John Wooden once said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.” As we try to improve the people and organizations we lead, we will have plenty of, “that’s my bad” moments. You cannot be a leader if you are standing still. Leaders and their organizations grow or die, there is no in between. Leadership author Craig Groeschel says, “People would rather follow a leader who is always real than one who is always right.” Right leaders appear perfect, real leaders are imperfect and relatable. Give yourself grace when you make mistakes, no one is perfect.
I love presidential and military history. President Dwight D. Eisenhower led well in both of these arenas. He was General Eisenhower before he was President Eisenhower where he was responsible for the Allied Force’s invasion plan on D-Day in World War II. D-Day ended up proving to be a success and one of the most pivotal points in world history.
Few will ever know the level of ownership that he was willing to assume if the mission failed. The decision to invade on D-Day was one riddled with risk that hundreds of thousands of his peoples’ lives were at stake. Even success meant staggering losses of his people. He wrote this brief letter, that never had to be read aloud, in the case his decision led to failure for his people (Read more in blog post Ike):
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
None of us will have to make a decision of this magnitude, but we can learn great lessons from that final sentence. When we have a “that’s my bad” moment in leadership, the blame or fault is ours alone. When we fail in the stewardship of the people under our care, declare it and vow to not repeat it. Once you do that, give yourself some grace and lead better moving forward.