Monday, June 7, 2010

Robert Whipple on Admitting Mistakes

Admitting Mistakes   It's not IF Mistakes happen, 
but how you handle the Mistakes.

At DeDominic & Associates  we feel fortunate to have extraordinary
resources at our fingertips.     Being Santa Barbara based strategic planning and organizational
consultants for operating more effectively, we see all types of enterprises from the under belly
as well as from the public relations point of view.    I applaud those leaders and managers who
strive to become more effective and who believe that keeping their integrity is paramount.  One
of the important qualities of a leader who operates with integrity is the ability to admit mistakes.
Frankly it is not that you don't make mistakes, everyone does.   But how you handle and grow from
those mistakes that can make a huge difference in your impact. Today we hear from a national resource on leadership, Robert Whipple, MBA and CEO of  Leadergrow, Inc.

Admitting Mistakes

By Robert Whipple  - The New New World of Work Guest Expert

One of the most powerful opportunities for any leader to build trust is to publicly admit mistakes.
The source of that power is that it is so rare for leaders to stand up in front of a group and say something like this: “I called you here today to admit that I made a serious blunder yesterday. It was not intentional, as I will explain. Nevertheless, I failed to do the best thing for our group. I sincerely apologize for this and call on all of us to help mend the damage quickly. Without being defensive, let
 me just explain what happened…”

If you were in the audience listening to this leader, how would you react? Chances are your esteem
for the leader would be enhanced, simply by the straightforward approach and honesty of the statements. Of course, it does depend on the nature of the mistake. Here are a few situations where an admission of a mistake would not produce higher trust:

• If the blunder was out of sheer stupidity.

• If this was the third time the leader had done essentially the same thing.

• If the leader is prone to making mistakes due to shooting before aiming.

• If the leader simply failed to get information that he should have had.

• If the leader was appeasing higher-ups inappropriately.

Assuming none of the above conditions is present and the mistake is an honest one, admitting it
publicly is often the best strategy. There is an interesting twist to this approach that has often baffled
 me.  Let’s suppose that I have gathered 100 leaders into a room and asked them to answer the following question: “If you had made a mistake, which of the following two actions would have the greater chance of increasing the level of respect people have for you?

(A) You call people together, admit your mistake, apologize, and ask people to help you correct the problem.
(B) You try to avoid the issue, blame the problem on someone else, downplay the significance, pretend it did not happen, or otherwise attempt to weasel out of responsibility.”

Given those two choices, I am confident that at least 99 out of the 100 leaders would say action
(A) has a much greater probability of increasing respect. The reason I am confident is that I have
 run that experiment dozens of times when working with leaders in groups. The irony is that when
 an error is subsequently made, roughly 80% of the same leaders choose action more consistent with choice (B). The real conundrum is that if you were to tap the leader on the shoulder at that time and ask him why he chose (B) over (A), he would most likely say, “I did not want to admit my mistake because
I was afraid people would lose respect for me.”

This situation illustrates that in the classroom, all leaders know how to improve respect and trust,
 but many of them tend to not use that knowledge when there is an opportunity to apply it in the field.
It seems illogical. Perhaps in the heat of the moment, leaders lose their perspective to the degree that they will knowingly do things that take them in the opposite direction from where they want to go. I believe it is because they are ashamed of making a mistake, but when you admit an error, it has an incredibly positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. Perhaps this is one of the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence. Intellectually, they know the best route to improve trust, but emotionally they are not mature or confident enough to take the risk. When you admit an error, it has a positive impact on trust because it is unexpected.

As Warren Bennis in Old Dogs: New Tricks noted,
“All the successful leaders I’ve met learned to embrace error and to learn from it.”


No comments: