This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of Choices Magazine. To view the published format, please click here.
No matter what job you have there will come a time when you screw up. It’s evitable, especially if you are in a leadership or management position, something will be said wrong, taken wrong, or done wrong… It’s the law of averages. So, when that time comes, it’s nice to have a course of action to get you back on track and in your bosses good graces, and, that all begins with three key things every boss wants to hear:
It won’t happen again.
Please forgive me.
As a Battalion Chief supervising over 65 personal, I had my fair share of misunderstandings and misgivings. On one particular occasion, I had keyed in an incorrect code for an employee’s work status and the employee had gone to the Union to voice his concern. My boss was notified and I was summoned to his office. I took one step into his office and knew that I was going to be the recipient for all that had not gone well in his world that day. In that moment, I knew I had three choices. I could, one, take the verbal abuse and run, two, argue with him about how this and that was to blame, or, three, say these three simple statements and see how it could be resolved. I decided to try something new.
It didn’t matter the order but as I said these to him, I could see him take a mental jump. As I completed the statements he started to yell again with a look that was somewhere between amazement that there wasn’t going to be an argument to disbelief. I had to say them again. He sat back in his chair, took a deep breath, and told me I had screwed up. The difference now was the situation was defused and we were able to have a conversation instead of fight. By my immediate acceptance that my actions had created this disruption, we were able to avoid it. That didn’t mean that I was necessarily wrong in my actions, I merely defused the situation giving everyone a chance to calm down.
Life isn’t a straight line. People are people and mistakes happen. These three statements are the keys to take responsibility for your actions. I had realized I was sorry for creating the situation, I never liked going to the bosses office if I was in trouble, and I really did want to be forgiven so what I said was true. Once I acknowledge that in a heartfelt way, we could concentrate on solutions to fix the problem. I wasn’t acting in a malicious way but if we had argued, we would have arrived at the same solution just with a lot more animosity. It isn’t a way to avoid mistakes as much as it is a way to get back on track. Next time, try these three statements and see how quickly you can get back on track. Good leadership isn’t about not making mistakes, it’s about accepting responsibility and making course corrections that keep things moving forward. Embrace it and move on, you’ll be a much better leader when you do and your boss will sing your praises!