What Leaders Should Do, But Don’t!

Watching the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints game the other night reminded me of the Drew Breeze trade from the San Diego Chargers back in 2005.

For you non-football fans or those of you who don’t remember, Drew was traded to New Orleans after the 2005 season in which he broke his shoulder. As a result, San Diego ships him off to New Orleans and Philip Rivers becomes San Diego’s new starting quarterback.

Since the trade, no QB has thrown for more touchdowns, yards or 300 yard games. That includes Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers, Payton Manning and Philip Rivers. In addition to being the most prolific passer in the past 8 years, he also steered the hapless Saints to their first Super Bowl win, something San Diego is still looking to accomplish.

So, here’s my point. Do you think San Diego leadership has ever admitted to making a mistake?  I don’t sit in the locker rooms, or the front office, so I can’t answer that question, but my gut is telling me no. I’ve never heard one or seen an admittance on any sports channel. I bet the San Diego Charger leadership doesn’t believe they made a mistake and they won’t admit to it. They will point to all the success Philip Rivers has had and say they made the right choice. But looking at the data and the stats, they didn’t.

Every leader, sales leader or otherwise, makes mistakes. They hire the wrong person. They make the wrong strategic decision. The build poor partnerships.  They misjudge the market. They support a bad product. They invest in the wrong idea. Every leader, no matter how good, no matter how savvy, no matter how committed screws up, they just do.

Unfortunately, too few leaders own their mistakes. They don’t apologize and take ownership. When I say take ownership, I don’t mean a passive, quiet confession to their boss or in a closed door session to the board, but an open, public admittance of a mistake.

Here’s why it’s important.

When a leader makes a decision, it effects other people.  Because of their position, their decisions aren’t in a vacuum, they impact the jobs, the wallets, the time and effort of others and more. Depending on how big the role and the decision, it could effect 10’s, 100’s, 1000’s or even 100,000’s of people.  Even though, at the end of the day, they are the decision maker and own the responsibility, their decision sets in motion the lives and efforts of more people than just themselves. Therefore, when a leader makes the wrong decision, he or she  hasn’t messed up their own world, they’ve  messed up the world of a lot of people and that is why they need to own it publicly and admit to the mistake.

By owning their mistake publicly shows a humility and an understanding that their decisions affect other people. People don’t like feeling victimized and when leaders don’t own or show public accountability those affected by the leaders decision feel betrayed and victimized. They had little to no say in the decision, but have suffered the consequences. Once people victimized or betrayed, it’s the beginning of the end for a leader.

Being a leader requires humility and a empathy for the people and teams they lead. They need to understand their decisions affect more people than themselves and when they screw up, they screw up the lives and careers of everyone involved. To minimize the damage and show their allegiance to their team the leader MUST own it publicly.

Being a leader is more than getting big bucks, having control, setting vision, leading strategy and celebrating victory, it sometimes means admitting you fucked up in the most public of ways.

As a leader you’re gonna screw up. That’s the easy part. But can you look at your entire team and admit it publicly?  Now that’s a true leader.