We Hate to Be Wrong

And that’s unfortunate. Making mistakes, accepting them, and moving forward to correct them is a leadership responsibility. 

Self-identities based in always being right is a dead-end.  Seeking to be seen as flawless, only having valid thoughts, demonstrating logic, and making sound and well-grounded conclusions all the time will make you, and those around you, crazy. Mistakes often can challenge a sense of self and unpleasant emotions can arise, including feeling flawed, defective, and sometimes a sense of shame.  Some dread the idea of making an apology.  We can fall into counter-intuitive trap that admitting mistakes or even putting them on display makes us weak or unworthy rather than strong and available.  Yet, there are countless examples of mistakes becoming an invention:  Post-It notes, potato chips, pacemakers, and microwave ovens all started as a “mistake”. 

One study, by Ilona Jerabek, PhD, uncovered that admitting mistakes is foundational to leadership.  She identified some of the core issues are having difficulty in admitting mistakes as we may: hate to look weak, have some insecurity at play, need approval, are perfectionists, and are defensive.  We are born ignorant, and why would we think that pursuing “perfection” would be anything short of a lifetime endeavor?

Places to consider:

• In your daily leadership, pay attention to your feelings and inner dialog.   When confronted with new facts and insights, do you tend to resist them?  Do you move into self-recrimination for being “wrong”?  Do you need to have the best or right idea?  Reframe “right and wrong” into continually growing (for yourself, team, and organization).

• Welcome more humility in your leadership. Admitting mistakes is foundational to building a culture of trust.  Allow – even encourage — others to be smarter than you.  Leadership is not about being the smartest person in the room, but leveraging the talent in the room.

• Admit your mistakes and remind yourself that they do not define you. Disentangle making a “mistake”, an initiative that falls short, or not having the best idea from being “wrong” to continual learning. 

• Create a meaningful and powerful purpose.  That helps move the focus from “mistakes” to focusing your leadership on a consequential future.

• View yourself as continually becoming rather than viewing success as forever being a steppingstone to the next level of success. Replace your internal dialog from “I made a mistake” with “I will use this learning, new perspective, and awakening to become a better leader.”

• Learn new practices that make being in difficult dialog more tenable.

Embrace humility and be kind to yourself.  We were not born with an owner’s manual.