Karin’s Leadership Articles

building trustThe Senior Vice President stood in front of my all hands meeting of 300 and said, “I was wrong.” I’ve never heard a group that size sit in such silence. I’m not even sure we were breathing.

You see, she had been a naysayer. She knew the mission our team had been given was necessary, but she didn’t believe it could be done. This stung twice as hard because she’d been a mentor of mine for years. In some ways the mission to prove her wrong by accomplishing “the impossible” became quite personal.

And we had.

She could have chosen lots of other words to open up her talk. Words that would have saved face, but none that could have given her more credibility. “I was wrong, I didn’t think it could be done. You did it. Congratulations, and thank you.”

5 Ways to Admit You’re Wrong

The ability to admit you’re wrong is the ultimate sign of confident humility. It takes guts to admit you’ve made a mistake. More importantly, being vulnerable enough to admit you’re wrong makes it safe for others to do so too. Imagine a world where more people were that honest with themselves and others.

Quite frankly, many leaders screw this up. They reinvent history to justify their actions (another wrong.) No matter how you spin it two wrongs don’t make a right.

Next time you screw up, follow these tips.

1. Be straightforward

The power of her statement was that it was so blunt. “I was wrong.” She could have said something much softer with less impact, “You did a solid job,” would have been easier on her ego.

2. Explain why

Share what you’ve learned or would do differently. Articulating the lesson helps everyone learn.

3. Take accountability

Don’t be a blamer. “I was wrong, but Joe gave me bad information” or “I was wrong, but my boss had me distracted with other things” is basically saying, “Even if I am wrong, it doesn’t count.”

4. Apologize if needed

In this case there was no apology necessary, she was a leader with an opinion doing her job by expressing it. In fact, I’ll admit that her skepticism fired us up. It’s quite possible in some wacky way working to prove her wrong helped us win. But, if being wrong hurt someone, “I’m wrong,” coupled with “I’m sorry,” can go even further.

4.Follow-through

Of course the most sincere way to apologize is to not do it again. I have a friend who cheated on his wife. He admitted he was wrong, apologized, owned it… and then did it again. She left him. Those words only worked once.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

5 Comments

  1. James McKey (@jmckey)

    I love the emphasis on humility and vulnerability in this article coupled with the true meaningful power it brings. An internal and covalent bond kind of power, not a singular egotistical kind of power. I was just thinking the other day of tweeting that sometimes we need to just say “we’re sorry” with no words of explanation after. Just I’m sorry.

    • Karin Hurt

      James, Love that! “An internal and covalent bond kind of power.” And yes, that sounds like a powerful tweet.

  2. Terri Klass

    Excellent post, Karin!

    Admitting we are wrong makes us human and then people really do want to connect with us. I once worked with a leader who was very humble and not only stated when he was wrong, but did extraordinary listening to make sure he got all the facts correctly. He made me feel that I was worthy and had a great deal to offer.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, Great example! thank you.

  3. Alli Polin

    Oh my gosh – I’ve worked for more than a few leaders who need this post!! It’s so true. A little humility goes a long way for building trust and connection. Powerful story. Glad you shared!

    ~Alli

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