We had just moved to Texas and were searching to find a church. We settled on two to visit and our first Sunday at this particular church was…. interesting. The pastor was giving a state of the church message. I had heard those before, but never like this. He put all of his, and the church’s, cards on the table. They had just built a new building at the start of the economy crash in 2008. The price of steel doubled and the cost of the project went along with it. I will never forget what he did next. The leader of the church got up and said “it is my fault”. He took the blame. Could he have controlled the market and cost of steel… no. But it happened under his leadership. It was his mistake and he owned it. And I knew at that moment that this was the place we needed to be.
Here is the problem with being a leader and making mistakes, you make them in front of everyone. You don’t see people blaming international relations problems on a store clerk in Montana. No, they put the blame on the president and their team that have chosen to lead the nation.
You are going to mess up. Everyone will see it and be watching what you do next. So the question is, what do we do next.
Own up to it
You messed up. Everyone knows you messed up because you are the leader. You MUST admit that you messed up. Leaders who don’t are not showing strength, they are showing their weakness. People don’t want to follow someone who can’t see their own faults. They choose to follow someone because they acknowledge their faults and lead through them anyway.
You owned up to the mistake, now you need to apologize. To say that you messed up is only half of it. Your people need to hear the words “I’m Sorry”. Leaders take the blame. That is the burden of leadership. Even if it was not directly your fault, it happened under your leadership. Apologize. Keep it brief and mean it.
Bring People In
This is the part most leaders miss. You have admitted fault. Said you were sorry. These elements help bond people to you. Now, solidify that bond by asking for their help. Bring them in to the problem and make them part of the solution. The pastor in the story at the beginning went on to ask for the congregations help to fix his mistake. In doing this he brought people in.
Internalize the Learning
Leaders who make mistakes are human. Leaders who make the same mistakes over and over aren’t going to be leaders for long. Take time to reflect on your mistakes. Analyze what went wrong and how you got there. Then try desperately to never get there again. The final thing the pastor did was vow never to go into debt again… ever! And they haven’t.
You messed up. You owned up. You apologized. You sought help. You learned. Now you need to move on with your leadership and not ruminate on your mistakes. They will stunt your growth as a leader if you do not move on. You will be paralyzed with the fear of making another mistake. Breath in and remember you will make many more.
Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions. - Mark Twain
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