When You Are Wrong


You were wrong. Flat out wrong. You promised right, but it turned left. You planned for up, but it went down. This hire was “The One”, but they left after three months. No doubt about it…wrong! So, what now?

Here are some of our favorite dysfunctional choices: deny, blame, obfuscate, hide. Or, as one of my female executive friends once put it, “What I’ve learned from men is how to be wrong with authority!”. I recommend none of these options, assuming you want to be a leader who has followers that actually WANT to follow you!

So, again, what now??

First, check your attitude. Does being wrong feel like a fatal failure? Are you afraid you will be “found out”? Is your ego too fragile to accept being wrong? Do you somehow feel solely responsible for deciding what’s “right”?

Welcome to the human race. You will be wrong. You’d BETTER be wrong…once in a while! If you aren’t, you are probably playing it too safe. And, given that you are human, you will also probably have some less than pleasant emotional responses when you are wrong. So be it. Feel whatever your version of “bad about it” is, and then let those emotions slip away.

I interviewed an executive once who said, “When I fall down I figure I might as well look around to see what I can pick up while I’m down there.” That’s a pretty good attitude. It accepts that we will fall down sometimes, and recognizes falling as the opportunity it is. So, an opportunity for what?

Unless, as a leader, you have built a moat around yourself, creating a tiny island on which you are Queen or King and the only resident, you have people around you who are at least as smart as you who are familiar with the circumstances of your “wrong”. Some of them may be your Followers. Some may be Peers. Some- if you have been mindful about it- will be a small group of people you have grown up with in your career and known for a long time. People You Trust To Tell You The Truth.

It is a very good idea to check in with these folks when you have been wrong. Ask them what you missed. Ask them if there are things about your leadership style that create blind spots for you. Ask them for their assessment of damage to the team’s functionality and morale. Ask them how they would “right the ship”. Ask them for help, utilizing their strengths to get us back on course. Ask them to come talk to you if they see you going off course again. Do you get the idea?

People ask me all the time what I think is the most important attribute of a great leader. My answer is always “confident humility”. Confidence to embrace that being wrong sometimes is part of it. Humility to go ask and learn from the people around you- those you trust and have known throughout your career; and, those who work alongside you, who share the same mission and goals.