This is one of the great skills of leadership.
I remember the first time I was confronted with a “bad mistake” I had made. I was working with a startup, and we’d negotiated a very important partnership. Everyone had looked at the contract carefully. All of the senior team. And somehow, we’d agreed to give away a ton of important rights to the partner. We signed it and patted ourselves on the back for getting the deal done.
Our new boss came in a few months later and looked at the contract and immediately asked me why we’d agreed to such a horrible, damaging term. I froze up in front of the whole team. I never really answered, except with mumbling excuses and deflecting blame. He was right, we never should have signed it. Period. But I couldn’t take the blame in front of a dozen others who also worked on the team. I shrunk and deflected instead.
That’s probably how most of us are wired to act. And it makes for a terrible manager, and later, a terrible leader.
You need to learn to get past this:
- Learn to apologize quickly and directly for your errors.
- Try to fix your mistakes.
- Blame less often, not more often. Blame rarely helps and undermines trust.
- And when in doubt, take the blame yourself. Blame should go up when in doubt, not down.
This is what true leaders do. You can’t fix everything, and some things, you can’t even try to fix. Once you become a CEO, you’ll actually we wracked with doubts and guilts about your mistakes. They will haunt you.
But owning up to them is one of the greatest management skills and hacks there is. It lets everyone move on, and helps folks understand they work in a trusting environment where mistakes are acknowledged — and forgiven.