It’s Okay to Admit You Screwed Up


Mistakes are part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way.

                        -Al Franken


One of the greatest lessons of my leadership career occurred in the early stages. I had developed a reputation as a pretty good broadcast journalist. I was a hard-driving, results-oriented individual who demonstrated an ability to get the most out of myself and others with whom I worked.

My success led to a number of promotions, and eventually I was named news director at the television station at which I worked. I instituted a number of changes to improve our product, most of which were positively received, though there was some internal resistance, as there always is during change. I was generally respected and trusted by my team.

Over time, the characteristics that worked so well for me began to work against me (more on this in a future blog). My hard-driving, demanding style began to take its toll on people. I was like a jockey in the Kentucky Derby who went to the whip a few too many times. People rebelled. My employees organized a team meeting, called me into a room and for about an hour proceeded to read a list of grievances they had with my style.

THAT was painful. It was the most humbling experience of my professional career. It also turned out to be the best thing that ever happened in my career. The rich learning lessons I took from that experience and how they transformed me as a leader and person could fill a book. Perhaps, someday they will. For now, I will share some of the lessons learned in the next few blogs. The growth I have experienced as a leader as a result of that experience 30 years ago was not something that occurred overnight. It continues to this day. I’ve made plenty of other mistakes, however I’d like to think that there has been more positive than negative and that I, along with my colleagues through the years and the organizations with which I have been affiliated have benefited a great deal.

The first lesson? Leaders should be willing to admit their mistakes. When it was finally my turn to speak, the very first thing I did was apologize. I knew that much of what my team had the courage to share with me was true. The fact that I was willing to say I was sorry enhanced my credibility and likeability and made me much more effective as a leader going forward. I never changed WHAT I believed (although there were clearly a few team members who were hoping for that result). I changed HOW I implemented what I advocated,

Many leaders seem to feel they must maintain an aura of invincibility and that admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness. I would argue that team members view your willingness to admit you screwed up as a strength, and would prefer to follow a leader who is willing to be so vulnerable.

As a leader, are you willing to go there?