Last spring, I was having dinner with a friend who asked me, “Nicole, when should leaders admit they’ve made a mistake?”
I could barely get the words out fast enough.
“All the time!”
She went on to tell me about her boss, who not only never acknowledged when she could have done better or when something was done wrong, but she also never complimented anyone either.
This is a toxic combination which will create a culture of people who are disgruntled and distrustful. This will create an atmosphere where no one is at their best.
I thought about me. I feel like I constantly own things – sometimes things that were not even mine to own – but that’s what taking responsibility is all about. That’s what leadership is all about. If I feel good when staff do the right thing – which, fortunately for me, is very often – then I have to accept, show grace and take responsibility when they do the wrong thing.
Leaders can’t only take credit when things are positive; leaders have to own all of it – the imperfect, the bad, the disappointing. Of course you hope hard times pass quickly, but you have to see them through. To me, that’s the way it works. There is simply no other way.
Brené Brown talks about the original definition of courage in her TEDxHouston talk. She says:
“Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language – it’s from the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart” – and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so…, very simply, the courage to be imperfect.”
If you’re leading with courage, you are showing up all the time. You are showing up when things are positive, when things could be better, when things are imperfect, when things are real. And by doing this, you encourage others to do the same. If you show yourself to others, others show themselves to you. That’s something I know for sure.
I vividly remember the first time a boss swore in front of me. Someone had done something she wished he hadn’t, and in the privacy of her office, only to me, she exclaimed that this person was a “f***ing a**hole!” I think my first reaction was laughter, followed by shock that she shared this with me. It made me see her differently. She was a real person. This was a real reaction. And she trusted me with it. This was definitely someone I wanted to show my real self too as well.
And that’s how it goes.
When should leaders show who they are? Whenever possible. All the time.
When should leaders admit when they’ve made a mistake? Whenever possible. All the time.
You have to own everything when you lead, and in doing so, you’ll show up for the people you’re leading – and encourage them to do the same for you.