TrustBUSTER #2 – Unwilling to admit mistakes or apologize

TrustBUSTER #2 – Unwilling to admit mistakes or apologize

There was an article in our local paper yesterday and it was about a 17-year-old swimmer who got caught drinking and had to miss part of her senior season because of her mistake.  She is a defending state champion and her team lost twice during her absence.  Why I think it is a significant story is that she openly talked about it in the paper and shared how she let her team down because of her choices.  I am sure she told them how sorry she was for letting them down.

This behavior is so important that Patrick Lencioni devotes two questions (out of 15) to it in the assessment he provides as part of his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  The questions are:

  • Team members quickly and genuinely apologize to one another when they say or do something inappropriate or possibly damaging to the team.
  • Team members openly admit their weaknesses and mistakes.

There are two aspects to this: personal character and company culture.  Character is simply about having the strength to recognize what you did was wrong and fix it.  There is lots of learning in and around mistakes.  Being able to see them, apologize, and get on with a different solution results in everyone getting smarter and more trusting in our character. 

If there is one thing a leader needs to remember it is this:  Culture will trump character.  If the culture punishes mistakes, then most will hide them.  A paycheck is a very powerful thing and preserving it will be a priority for many.  The return for an organization that makes it safe to own a mistake is that things get fixed faster and people are more likely to take risks that will be good for your business.  To test this yourself, write down 10 mistakes made people on your team in the last three months.  Then ask yourself:  What was the impact on the company?  What was the impact on the person?  How was it discovered and by who?  How was it resolved? 

When you look at the answers ask yourself – At my company does culture trump character or is character the culture?