Owning Mistakes…All of Them

In the past few days, months really, I’ve been faced with several ‘impossible’ tasks.  As a leader, I do my best to tackle these problems head on and I strive to make the best decisions possible.  Most of the time I do, and sometimes I don’t.  My saving grace has been that I always own my mistakes.  I’m quick to apologize and ask for grace when needed.  Most of the time, people are generally forgiving.  I end up being a lot harder on myself than anyone else.  This week, however, I found myself in a slightly different situation.

One of the aspects of being the leader of a team means that you cover them.  My Six Word Story coming into this school year was “We take risks; I take blame.” I meant every word of that. I was (and still am) fully prepared to take the blame for anything that could possible go wrong as we are working  to build an atmosphere where it is safe to try innovative things and safe to fail. It was important to me to let my entire team (both centrally and campus-based) know that I would cover them. I would own their mistakes. I wanted them to try so many new ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas that people would forget there ever was a box.  For the most part, I would consider this endeavor a success.  Are we 100% where we want to be? No, but we’re so much closer than we were when we started.

This past week, I was introduced to a new perspective on taking the blame for the team, and it caused me to pause and really reflect on what I needed to do and how I should respond. I was totally prepared to take the blame for my team, but was I prepared to take the blame for the previous team?? I mean, I was a part of it. And while I didn’t make certain decisions, as the new leader I am holding people to many of the same expectations.  So when I was approached this week with a new mistake, initially I didn’t know how to respond.  The accusatory tone in which the message was sandwiched immediately led me to want to become defensive.  And I’ll admit, in my initial response, I failed.  I failed pretty miserably.  I heard myself saying “I’m sorry if you feel like….” and even I was immediately appalled. I DESPISE FAKE APOLOGIES, and I couldn’t believe that I was standing there about to give one.  I did rebound though. Thanks to the ability to think on my feet, I was able to ‘clean that up’ and offer a real apology.  I revisited the same point of concern, and this time my words were “I apologize if our actions made you feel this way. It was not intentional, and was honestly just an oversight on my part. I will own this error, and we will fix it. While I can’t change the past, I can make sure that it doesn’t happen again going forward.”

I wish I could tell you that my words were able to change the mood of the offended party, but I don’t really know if they did.  I do know, however, that my ownership of that mistake changed my mood. I went from being defensive, to being proactive and solutions oriented…trying to prevent the same mistake from being repeated. I was able to think clearly, offer factual information that supported my statements about the previous leadership team’s decisions & actions. I was able to counter the negative influence of the instigator who felt that they could prove that we had intentionally kept information away from certain people.  At the end of the day, I feel good knowing that I handled the situation with integrity and honesty.

I know that leadership isn’t always fun or pretty. It’s definitely not all roses and sunshine. It’s perfectly imperfect. It’s messy and beautiful. It’s joyous and stress-inducing. And I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.  If I could leave you with anything as a big take-away or ‘aha’ moment it would be this:  When you operate in transparency, you build trust. And when you have earned trust, people will hear your heart, not just your words.

I’m thankful for each opportunity that I have to build and earn the trust of my team. I look forward to a continued trust relationship as we charge forward, working together to transform the lives of our students.


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