Unifying teams starts with a leader admitting being wrong
Show humility, admit when you are wrong, show resilience and your team will too.
The first time I heard a leader admit being wrong I was stunned. I was 22 years old and working for Jim Flaherty, who at the time was the Minister of Enterprise, Opportunity and Innovation – the ministry of vowels we affectionately called it. I was Jim’s communication advisor and did the leg work for his speaking opportunities, gathering details, drafting remarks, always making sure he had the information we needed for each event he attended. I traveled with him collecting contacts and intel to allow him to focus on his messages.
One October, we attended an event at his local Chamber of Commerce to celebrate small business week. To make the most of his time I planned a breakfast with a handful of small business owners to hear from them, their biggest challenges, complaints – whatever they had to saw.
Jim had agreed to the strategy on paper, but that morning when we arrived at the event to meet just six business owners and no media, he felt I dropped the ball. If we were here why not invite more businesses, why exclude the media were his questions. I was his media person, and these were legitimate questions and my job was to maximize his exposure, always.
I explained my strategy to him again. I wanted him to have an opportunity for in-depth conversations with a few representatives because he would meet with many later during his remarks. I didn’t want the media there because the participants would be more reserved and I didn’t want to build two media opportunities in one day, to compete with ourselves and our message. I wanted consistency, to have a message and a photo opportunity in mind. This was definitely an art, not a science and I was young, new in my career and trying things out. In my head it made sense, but his questioning put me on my heels and made me question myself. For a moment I thought maybe I had let him down.
After my explanation, Jim agreed to continue as planned and the meeting went well, the speech was great and Jim landed on the front page of the paper with a story about all of his efforts to connect with small business.
The next day Jim called me into his office, he said something along the lines of, ‘you had a great vision and it worked next time I am going to just listen.’ We laughed and I left amazed that instead of just sweeping my efforts under the table he took the time to tell me he was wrong – and he trusted me.
Sadly, that moment was rare in my career and very few of my leaders from there on admitted they were wrong, even when they clearly were. Instead it was blame, avoid and move on. They also never had the same respect from me that Jim earned. From his example I always made a point to admit mistakes, particularly to my staff, as a way to show humility and to encourage them to own their mistakes, recognize them, learn from them and move on.
If you want a team focused on solutions and that care about issues being quickly identified and resolved, as a leader you too need to show humility, admit when you are wrong, show resilience and your team will too.
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