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As a leader, if you make a mistake you need to admit it and make it right. (Royalty-Free/Corbis)
As a leader, if you make a mistake you need to admit it and make it right. (Royalty-Free/Corbis)

Workplace Award

How leaders must admit their mistakes Add to ...

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at www.employeerecommended.com.

How do you typically respond when an employee challenges one of your decisions?

This is an important question to think about if you are interested in building trusting relationships. Why? Because how you act when you are questioned or challenged can influence an employee’s behaviour and psychological well-being.

When employees have learned that if they challenge you there’s a good chance it may come back at them, that they may be judged unfairly. The result is that the employee learns you are not someone they feel safe with or trust to share what they are thinking and feeling.

At the core of a healthy and productive employee-manager relationship is open and two-way communication. By building rapport and having frequent positive interaction with employees as well as aligning values and finding agreement on the company’s mission, a leader and her employees can form a bond where they both feel safe to disagree, debate and challenge a point – all with one goal: to get to the best decisions and result for all stakeholders.

The microskill of admitting mistakes promotes the value for leaders to open themselves up to the fact they are not perfect, that they may be wrong at times, and they need to admit when they make mistakes.

To do this, leaders need to involve their staff in an open and non-judgemental manner. You’ll know that this is happening by your employees’ willingness to question decisions or give suggestions of their own. Of course, this does not mean you automatically agree with them; it means it’s an opportunity to test your thinking.

Here are ways to facilitate employees’ questions:

Be open and seek input.

This is especially important for decisions that are outside the normal decision tree, because that increases the risk for being wrong. It often doesn’t take much time or energy to simply ask for input. You don’t have to have all the answers. Ask the subject matter experts, who often are your employees, and get their input in order to help you make the right decisions. However, when you ask, it’s important to listen and be open to challenges. As well, realize that some situations – especially those outside the normal routine – often will spark questions. Consider this as an opportunity to get the best solution the first time by involving others’ thinking.

Ask to be challenged.

If, after you ask others for input and you’re not challenged, it can be helpful to facilitate the process by asking a specific question, such as: “Do you see any risks in this decision?” Whether you ask for the challenge or you are being challenged is not the point. Pause and don’t defend your position until you seek to understand the other’s point of view. Keep asking the why question until you are clear. Ultimately, as the leader it’s often up to you to make the final decision. It’s important that whatever decision you make – you own it – meaning that whether it is right or wrong, it’s because you chose that route.

Admit when you’re mistaken.

If you change a decision based on the facts and evidence, it becomes your thinking, or your original decision was wrong or incomplete. To gain credibility and support from your team it’s best to quickly admit when you are wrong. Acknowledge why and what helped you to change your perspective, and then acknowledge and thank the people involved who gave that assistance. This creates a culture where your employees are committed to support you and are willing to expend the energy and effort to help you do the right thing and make the correct decision. When they trust you and feel safe they will be more comfortable to push back when they believe it’s the right thing and that in the end you will be grateful. It will make your decision-making more thorough and well-informed.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell’s Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link: http://tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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