Leadership Barometer 9 Admit Mistakes

July 29, 2019

Nobody likes to admit a mistake, but it can be a very powerful way to build trust, especially for leaders.

There are lots of ways to gauge the quality of a leader. One of my favorites is how readily the leader is willing to publicly admit a mistake.

Admits Mistakes

All leaders make mistakes. Few leaders relish the opportunity to publicly admit them. I think that is wrong thinking. For many types of mistakes a public “mea culpa” is a huge deposit in the trust account. Of course, there are types of mistakes that should not be flaunted before the general population.

For example, if a mistake is similar to one that a leader has made several times in the past, it is not a good idea to stand up in front of a group and say, “Well folks, I did it again.”

Likewise if a mistake is such a bonehead move it brings into question the sanity of a leader, it is not a good idea to admit it. But barring those kinds of issues, if an honest mistake was made, getting up and admitting it, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness is cathartic.

I once had the opportunity to call people together and admit a mistake I had made in a budget meeting the previous day. People were not happy to hear the news that I inadvertently gave away $10K, but I did have a steady stream of people come to my office later to tell me my apology was accepted and that my little speech resonated positively with my subordinates.

Reason: people do not expect leaders to apologize, because it is rarely done. You catch people off guard when you do it, and it has a major impact on trust.

Apologizing to your superior

Apologizing upward is another tricky area that can have a profound impact. The same caveats for apologizing downward apply here; if a mistake was plain stupid or it is the same one you have made before, best not admit it to the boss or some serious damage might result.

But if you have made an honest mistake, admitting this to the boss can be a big trust builder. This is especially true if the boss would never know unless you told her.

I recall a situation in my career where I had inadvertently divulged some company information while on a business trip in Japan. Nobody in my company would ever know I had slipped in my deportment, but it bothered me.

I took some special action to mitigate the mistake and then went hat in hand to my boss. I said, “Dick, I need to talk to you. I made a mistake when I was in Japan last week. You would never know this unless I told you, but here is what happened…”

I then described how I let a magazine be copied where I had written some notes in the margin. I described how I retrieved the copy and was given assurances that other copies had not been made.

My boss said “Well, Bob, you’re right, that is not the smartest thing you ever did.” He then said, “The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

That short meeting with my boss increased his trust in me substantially, and I received several promotions over the next few years that I can trace to his confidence in me.

Granted, his confidence was influenced by numerous good things I had done, but by admitting something that I did not need to do, the relationship was strengthened rather than weakened. This is powerful stuff, but it must be used in the right way at the right time for the right reason.

After making a mistake most leaders try to hide it, downplay the importance, blame others, pretend it didn’t happen, or use some other method to try to weasel out of it. Often these actions serve to lower trust.

Obviously it is a stupid strategy to intentionally make mistakes so you can admit them to other people. For all of us, mistakes will happen naturally from time to time.

Consider taking the opportunity to apologize publicly; often it is a great way to build trust. Use this technique carefully and infrequently, and it can be a positive influence on on your career and a verification of the quality of your leadership.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


10 Tips to Improve Your Own Integrity

April 30, 2019

Trust and integrity are inextricably linked. I believe before you can trust other people, you must trust yourself.

That means you must not be fighting with yourself in any way, which is a pretty tall order.

Integrity is about what you do or think when nobody else in the world would know. It is an interesting topic because it is very difficult to determine your own personal level of integrity.

We all justify ourselves internally for most of the things we do. We have it figured out that to take a pencil home from work is no big deal because we frequently do work from home.

We drive 5 mph over the speed limit because not doing so would cause a traffic hazard while everyone else is going 10 mph over the limit anyway. We taste a grape at the grocery store as a way to influence our buying decision.

When we are short changed, we complain, but when the error is in the other direction, we might pocket the cash. We lie about our age. We sneak cookies. If you have never done any of these things in your whole life? Let me know, and I will nominate you for sainthood.

There are some times in life when we do something known by us to be illegal, immoral, or dumb. We do these things because they are available to us and we explain the sin with an excuse like “nobody’s perfect.”

I guess it is true that all people (except newborns) have done something of which to be ashamed. So what is the big deal? Since we all sin, why not relax and enjoy the ride?

The conundrum is where to draw a moral line in the sand. Can we do something that is wrong and learn from that error so we do not repeat it in the future? I think we can.

I believe we have not only the ability but the mandate to continually upgrade our personal integrity. Here are ten ideas that can help the process:

1. Pay attention to what you are doing – Make sure you recognize when you are crossing over the moral line.

2.  Reward yourself – When you are honest with yourself about something you did that was wrong, that is personal growth, and you should feel great about that.

3. Intend to change – Once you have become conscious of how you rationalized yourself into doing something not right, vow to change your behavior in that area.

4. Reinforce others – Sometimes other people will let you know something you did, or are about to do, is not right. Thank these people sincerely, for they are giving you the potential for personal growth.

5. Check In with yourself – Do a scan of your own behaviors and actions regularly to see how you are doing. Many people just go along day by day and do not take the time or effort to examine themselves.

6. Recognize Rationalization – We all rationalize every day. By simply turning up the volume on your conscience, you can be more alert to the temptations before you. That thought pattern will allow more conscious choices in the future.

7. Break habits – Many incorrect things come as a result of bad habits. Expose your own habits and ask if they are truly healthy for you.

8. Help others – Without being sanctimonious, help other people see when they have an opportunity to grow in integrity. Do this without blame or condemnation; instead do it with love and helpfulness.

9. Admit your mistakes to others – Few things are as helpful for growth as blowing yourself in when you did not have to.  When you admit a mistake that nobody would ever find out about, it says volumes about your personal character.

10. Ask for forgiveness – People who genuinely ask for forgiveness are usually granted it. While you cannot ever wipe the slate completely clean, the ability to ask for forgiveness will be taking concrete steps in the right direction.

Which of these 10 tips do you think is the most difficult to do, but the most important one of the bunch.  My own personal opinion is that #6 has the most power.

Some people will say, “I don’t believe I am guilty of doing the kinds of things in this article.”  If you truly believe that, I challenge you to think harder and recognize that perfection is impossible to achieve, and all of us need to tune our senses to understand our weaknesses.

We all need to build our own internal trust so we can trust other people more. To do that, it is important to follow the ten ideas listed above. These ideas will allow you to move consciously in a direction of higher personal integrity.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


The Hidden Cost of Outsourcing

August 7, 2011

In the new global economy, one of the more tempting techniques for gaining competitive advantage is to outsource non-strategic functions to lower-cost labor areas. The practice has become ubiquitous for most US-based organizations.

Unfortunately, there is a kind of false economy in outsourcing, because the dollar savings are easy to calculate and the eventual hidden costs are not evident until the damage has been done. Several organizations have elected to tuck their tail between their legs and “insource” the jobs back to the home base because the damage being done is far greater than the savings enjoyed by paying for lower cost labor. For brevity, this article will deal with only one classic example.

I had a graduate-level class that was studying the impact of outsourcing, and I gave them a discussion question to recall an incident with outsourcing that caused problems for them. Amazingly, more than 25% of the class came up with examples from a single company with remarkably similar stories. The company is Dell.

Each person recalled having some piece of Dell equipment that needed customer service. The frustrations described were so similar it was astounding. The students described having a hard time getting through to customer support in a timely manner because the function had been outsourced to India. Once the wait was over (sometimes after more than one hour), and they had a human being on the phone, the frustrations only grew. The students all complained of the inability to understand the customer service person due to a heavy accent.

They described having to ask the service person to repeat a sentence multiple times, then still needing to guess at some of the words. These customer service reps were speaking English, but the students could not understand them. In some cases, the students escalated the call to a supervisor but had the same problem with the replacement. Those students who fought through the heavy accent to get the needed support found that the reps were not very helpful technically. It became obvious that the service person was reading from a decision tree or script and did not have the in-depth knowledge of the equipment and software to resolve the problem. If the students were talking to a hardware guy, the problem was eventually blamed on the software and vice versa.

In each case, the students expressed that they were totally disgusted with the service and had no intention of purchasing any Dell equipment in the future. Here is how one person described his frustration:

“Dell is a classic example. The lost reputation of Dell is a number that cannot be calculated, but it is huge, hundreds of times larger than the money they saved by outsourcing customer service to India. For example, in our family, we will never again buy a product made by Dell, yet we have done so in the past. We have lost trust in the company, and they simply cannot get it back. From our perspective, their products are not even on the market at any price. They can say they have “learned their lesson,” but that will not bring us back as customers. A damaged reputation spreads out over a company like a kind of cancer. You cannot see it working unless you have some very sensitive instruments, but it is really there doing damage every day.”

I am trying to think of an analogy to use here. Try this one…

For a CEO to consider outsourcing customer service to save money due to lower labor costs, it is like taking a bath every day in the warm waste water from a nuclear plant. “What is the problem? The water is nice and warm, and it seems perfectly clean. I’ll just take a nice hot bath every day because this water is less costly than what I have at home, and I do not have to pay to heat it up.” Hello? Anybody home? Nope…I guess not!