I’ve been in a season of leadership lately that has challenged me in many, many ways. There have been multiple transitions to navigate, and so very much to learn. I’m not the world’s fastest learner – sometimes I find myself making the same mistakes over and over again – long after I should have learned how to avoid them. Those mistakes have taught me the two most important words to say as a leader.
I’ll admit – my first response when I make a mistake is to explain why the mistake was made. Ok – that sounds way too nice. My first response when I make a mistake is to make excuses. I want to show the reasoning behind my failure, or even justify it. While there is a time and place for explaining why a mistake happens, it is not the first thing that needs to be said. Excuses don’t address the main issue.
What is the main issue?
Mistakes hurt people.
My mistakes hurt me, too, but that’s not the point. The point is that when I mess up as a leader, I am not the only one affected. And the very best thing I can do is acknowledge that.
Those two simple words claim ownership of the consequences of my mistakes. They validate the hurt or frustrations or feelings of betrayal that my team may be experiencing. Your team already knows that you aren’t perfect. Saying I’m sorry doesn’t let them in on any secrets about you. Instead, it builds trust in your leadership and in your character.
Your ability to acknowledge your failures gives your team permission to be honest about their weaknesses and failures, too.
Admitting to weaknesses builds strength.
And the first step to becoming a stronger leader is saying the words I’m sorry.