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How Leadership is Like Parenting…

Having spent the last week on a road trip with my family, one thing I know for sure is that parents make mistakes all the time. We can be too critical, too over-bearing, perhaps even too relaxed or not involved enough. We sometimes do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing. This is part of parenting. There is no guide book that provides parents with all the right answers. We make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. We shift gears when things are not working. We apologize to our kids when we make a mistake, we give them a hug (unless they are teenagers who are too “cool” for hugs) and we all move on.

Well, leadership is exactly the same! There is no guide book for leadership that provides all the right answers. Like parenting, it is normal and expected for leaders to make mistakes too.

I was at an off-site with clients last week. One of the leaders, I’ll call her Fiona, was clearly upset. “Vanessa, I feel so much pressure to have the right answers and to give perfect advice all the time.” Fiona continued to say that she often lies awake at night worrying that she might have made a mistake or given the wrong advice. She then said, “I feel like I am a bad leader if I make a mistake.”

With empathy, I looked at Fiona and said to her, “I love your passion and your willingness to do the right thing. This, in fact, makes you a very caring, compassionate leader. However, I want you to let go of the need to have all the right answers. After all, you are human. Being human means that you will make mistakes. Please know that it is 100% okay for leaders to make mistakes.”

I continued to share with Fiona, and her colleagues, that in fact making mistakes can actually build trust. When you make a mistake you have two options:

  • Option One: Ignore the mistake, blame someone else or sweep it under the rug.
  • Option Two: Admit to the mistake and right your wrongs. Make the necessary apology and fix what needs fixing.

Option one diminishes trust while option two builds trust in a relationship. I’m not suggesting that you purposely make mistakes all day long! I am saying that when you do make a mistake, because you are human, you will not be viewed as a bad leader if you admit to the mistake, take responsibility for it and move on.

In fact, failure is part of success, not separate from it. So what will you do next time you make a mistake? Good leaders have no problem saying “I’m sorry” or “Oops, I messed up” or “Yikes, my mistake. Please let me fix it for you.” Own it. Learn. Do it better next time. Move on!

Fiona felt so relieved when I shared this information with her. I hope it serves you too!

Vanessa Judelman

Vanessa Judelman is an author, coach, and sought-after leadership expert. Over the past 20 years, she has created a proven formula to develop results-oriented leaders who feel empowered and confident in their job. Vanessa is the author of Mastering Leadership: What It Takes to Lead in Today’s Fast-Paced World. Order your copy here.

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