I made a mistake. These are some of the most powerful words a leader can say. And, to be honest, I have not always been great at saying them. For a long time, the idea that I would share my faults with someone went against my very nature. I was a self-described, type A perfectionist who avoided mistakes, and definitely did not publicly declare when I made them.
But, as I worked on my leadership, one of the things that I found to be most powerful was taking ownership of everything, especially mistakes and failures. What I learned is that when I take responsibility for situations at work as the leader - it changes the tone of the entire team. I start to get honest and diverse feedback and I’m more likely to be able to find a solution that moves us forward. As a leader, one of the most important aspects of my job is to ensure that we are getting to the best solutions and that we are learning quickly from our failures so that we can continue to build better solutions. When I was hiding from my mistakes, I was actually being less effective because I was not creating a space for my team to have candid conversations and to really define a solution based on all the information.
Think about it - how often have you worked for someone who was always ready to accept the praise but always ready to pass the blame? If you are like most leaders, you can probably name a few experiences with someone like that and, if I had to guess, you also never put them into the category of ‘great leader’. I know that I learned that those actions are definitely not the action of a leader, but I also learned that those actions cost us time, resources and results.
If you are a fan of Brené Brown, you are probably aware of her concept of rumbles. She defines a rumble as “a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts.” This is a great practice to create a space for your team to have the hard, but necessary conversations about what is working, and more importantly, what is not. When you create this space, you build trust and allow people to see that mistakes are not only okay, but that they are necessary to the process of building the best solutions.
Owning mistakes is one key to being a great leader - I know that in my own career, taking that ownership allowed me to build trust, strengthen team relationships and ultimately drive better outcomes for the organization. Taking responsibility and taking action are not the same thing, but when you start with responsibility, taking action ends up being more fun. And, ultimately, don’t we all want to be able to find the fun in what we do? Leading with intention is about choosing to show up when it is hard, but also ensuring that your team can experience the joy in finding success after going through the rumbles.
All of this is about being the leader you want to be. To live bigger by falling and getting up. To get the exact results you have been aiming to achieve. And it all starts with saying: ‘I made a mistake’.