Admit your business mistakes & say you’re sorry

When an error happens, how you handle the situation can mean all the difference. Admit your mistake and be transparent about what went wrong. Understand where others are coming from. Own up to it. Make it right…
What we'll cover

Introduction

Some business people feel it’s weak to admit a mistake and use that 5 letter word – sorry. However, the truth is it’s empowering both personally and for your organisation. Be sorry .. and see your company thrive.

If you are a business owner, CEO / managing director, or an entrepreneur with a startup, your companies personality will act a little like a mini version of your personality, Not only will you hire people who tend to feel good to you because they are similar, but the rest of the staff will take a lead from you in order to keep their jobs safe.
Your personality traits, then, become prevalent around your business.

For that reason, be incredibly careful how you lead.

Vulnerability demonstrates strength

I coach from the perspective that vulnerability is empowering and demonstrates strength of character – and accepting others mistakes demonstrates empathy. Your mistake doesn’t define you. In short, it’s OK to not be perfect.

Why is this? Well, a few of the opposites of vulnerability are:

  • Entrenched
  • Defensible

If you are incapable of any vulnerability, much of your mental energy will be being spent on being right and sticking to the path you’ve carved. This leads to perfectionism and inflexibility, plus an element of the blame game, all of which are incredibly damaging both to an individual and a company.

Perfectionism is far from the ideal interview answer to “weaknesses”

I’d occasionally see CVs where people would proudly claim to be a perfectionist, thinking that this was a desirable trait.

Having standards is fine, but perfectionism creates an extremely difficult situation for a business because it’s never possible put a task down. There’s always more that can be done. The perfectionist knows the remaining 20% will take 80% of the time, but they’re willing to spend that extra 80% because emotionally they avoid being wrong at all costs.

So, they can become a liability.

Inflexibility necessarily creates under-optimised solutions

How much energy do you put into proving you’re right, versus evaluating opportunities for new paths?

I remember one of my friends worked for a company that made pushchairs for children. After a while, they realised that their growth in the market would be slower than anticipated and they should look to build out into other markets using the fabrication they already had in place. They did bring several new successful products to the market.
Inflexibility wouldn’t have allowed this; they would doggedly have continued and held themselves back.

The blame game

When mistakes are anathema in an organisation, staff will typically start playing the blame game. This consists of minimising the amount of responsibility you have for the situation, and attempting to maximise someone else’s responsibility.

This will always drive people apart, killing the desired situation of a fun and friendly working environment. Staff may spend their time and energy on the less productive task of trying to trip each other up.

Don’t sew these traits into the fabric of your business

All businesses need standards. They also need to trust in their direction.

However, these and associated traits are about emotional avoidance more than business success.

By allowing yourself to fail and apologise for your mistakes – whether there’s in a personnel situation or a business task – you will empower your staff to do the same. Instead of feeling the “fight or flight” fear-based response to their jobs, they will become more creative and enjoy their jobs.

They will want to succeed, as opposed to avoiding failure.

An honest mistake is human, and valuable lessons can be learned, particularly for relatively new hires. Typically, I’ve allowed staff to make mistakes in a controlled environment in the past, where they can’t take the entire business down, but they are encouraged to gain experience.

Adults learn by example, like children, so lead carefully

As we grow, we learn more by seeing what others do than being told what to do.

As adults, even though much of our growth and development has happened already, we still learn new boundaries when we join an existing company or, if we’re a successful entrepreneur, the company which is growing.

So, in order to remove boundaries from your staff, let them see you be vulnerable as a business leader. Let them see it’s OK for you to say you’re sorry. You are being human, and it will give them permission to be human too.

An exercise to normalise mistakes

If you want to move down this path, you could build an exercise for your business.

First off, explain to your staff why we’re all doing this. Explain that mistakes are human and you would rather they explain when they’ve done something wrong and you can deal with it as adults, as a team.

Then, invite all members of staff to add a mistake they made which you don’t know about to a collaborative document called “error amnesty” or similar. Maybe they posted something wrong on social media. Maybe a spreadsheet was incorrect. Maybe a proposal for a potential client went out with the wrong person’s name on and you didn’t get their business as a result. It’s a common mistake! I’ve done it! It’ll be important for you to add some of yours too.

Once everyone has added a mistake, call a meeting and talk through all of the mistakes, and laugh about them.
By doing this, you’ll normalise the process of admitting mistakes and will allow everyone to become comfortable with this before, before saying sorry, and moving on to more productive use of their energy than worrying they’ll get found out.

My biggest errors

Let me start you off with a couple of my past mistakes.

Once – about 20 years ago – I forwarded an entire email thread to a customer which contained our internal business positioning information. It shouldn’t have been shared with the client. It caused fear because I was working with a director who was all about perfection in their staff. Anything less was not acceptable.

I apologised to the client – who was fantastic about it – but I never admitted it to the company.

Another time, about 5 years ago, I chose and pushed for a particularly expensive supplier for web design work that we needed. The result was surprisingly ineffective and we wasted a lot of money and my due diligence wasn’t effective enough. However, I never really admitted to it being a mistake.

May I offer a sincere apology for those situations. I’m human. I have achieved greater success and found the right path for me because I was able to make those mistakes, and other.

If you want to get some of yours off your chest that you’ve been carrying around, feel free to email me. I don’t ever judge.

Create more success

If you’re an entrepreneur, executive, business owner or freelancer who’s feeling lost in a maze, I would be happy to lend a hand.

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