Leaders Make Mistakes

Recently, in the town I go to school in, there has been some drama at one of the local elementary schools. Something unfortunate happened, and without going into the details of the events, a lot of people dropped the ball on the standard operating procedures. The community, who was once behind the school district leaders, have turned completely against them virtually overnight. It is truly a tragedy in all aspects.

This event has indirectly reinforced a few important lessons in life and in business. They are as follows:

1. Leaders are human and they make mistakes. Humans will make mistakes and will do things they are not supposed to do. They will fail to take action when they should. They will fail to report incidents to the proper reporting agencies. They will fail to communicate to all of the shareholders of a given organization. They will fail to do the right thing when handling a customer dispute. They will fail to reprimand in private.  It is inevitable, leaders will fail. There will never be a leader that goes his or her whole career without making a mistake. Unfortunately for some, the mistakes they make could be career ending.

2. People’s opinion of you can change overnight. You can be loved and supported one minute, and hated the next. People will threaten you and your loved ones due to decisions you make or fail to make. On the other hand, you can be hated by a majority, take control of a situation by showing superior leadership,  and be backed by that same majority.

3. Even if a subordinate makes a mistake, the “boss” is still responsible. This is something that I struggle with wrapping my mind around, but I know it is true. In the specific incident in my community, the superintendent did make mistakes, but he had subordinates (teachers, counselors and a principle)  that made far worse mistakes than he did. They are being held accountable and reprimanded by suspensions and firings, but the superintendent is the one that is answering to the media, the reporting agencies and most importantly, the parents of the children at the school. If that doesn’t indicate to you the importance of trust that has to be instilled in subordinates when hired, I don’t think you will ever understand.

4. Once the mistake is made, be upfront and be visible. Leaders that run at the sight of trouble are not leaders, they are cowards. It is hard to own up to mistakes sometimes…everyone will struggle with it at some point. Making a mistake is often not the sole focus, but how you handle the mistake and correct it can save your job and your reputation. In addition, it can prevent smaller mistakes from turning into much larger ones. Be upfront with everyone involved. Be visible. If you do not have a solution, tell people that you are looking for one and let them know that you acknowledge the problem and you are working to correct it. One of the best examples I have seen of a leader being upfront and visible came recently from Jeff Long, the Athletic Director of the University of Arkansas. After a scandal was uncovered involving the head coach of the football team, Long held a press conference that was televised. Long did not have any answers for “Razorback Nation”, but he let them know that he was aware of the problem, he was investigating the problem and he gave a timeline for when he would report again. Even though he did not know what consequences would be implemented for choices the head coach made, he was upfront and visible. He earned the respect of the Razorback Nation.

The world can be cruel when you are a leader. You have a lot of responsibilities as a leader and you have a lot of people to answer to. This is especially true when you are a public leader, but this is also true when you are the leader of a smaller business or private organization. Leaders in all aspects are accountable to their superiors and to themselves. Their actions can make or break them.

Being a leader means taking responsibility, not only for yourself, but for those you lead. Lead with this in mind. Continuously remind yourself and those that you lead that you have an obligation to lead with integrity, with purpose, with action and with morality.

Thanks for reading!


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