Leaders often lament about the lack of accountability in employees. We write about it on this blog often. After all, it’s critical that employees take responsibility when they fail, rather than point fingers or place blame on others.
But how about when you mess up and it hurts the team? Do you own your mistakes? Or immediately find a way to shift the blame to someone else? The mark of a true leader is personal accountability. It shows your maturity and grit, but it also sets the right example for your employees. After all, if you refuse to take responsibility for your mistakes, how in the world can you expect them to fess up to their own?
So when you make a mistake, big or small, follow this three-step process:
Start by saying “I’m sorry.” If it’s possible to do in person, that’s ideal. But don’t delay an apology just because you can’t meet face-to-face. In those situations, immediately call the people affected, and follow up with in-person apologies at your next opportunity. This one is often hard for leaders, who worry that they will come across as weak. On the contrary, it’s one of the quickest ways to gain people’s respect and trust, neither of which is weak.
Own the problem and the solution
If the error is yours, the burden of the inconvenience should fall on you, not your employees, so resolve the problem yourself. You should not make mistakes and then expect your employees to clean up your mess.
In some cases, however, you will need help coming up with solutions or remedies to an urgent problem. That’s when you should ask for, not demand, their assistance. Go to employees and say “I made a mistake, and I could use your help fixing it.”
Then ask them politely to do a task or brainstorm with you. Don’t rush in demanding they resolve an issue and then take a hands-off approach. Work alongside them until your mistake is resolved.
Make it up to people
If your employees stick out their necks for you, recognize them. Don’t just pretend it’s part of their job requirements. It’s not. They could easily let you crash and burn. So recognize their efforts, with a small reward if possible, and at the very least, a genuine “Thank you.” And don’t forget to acknowledge how they went above and beyond when annual evaluations (and merit pay increases) come around.
No doubt, there are limits to what you can—and should—offer, so consider the mistake, how frustrating or inconvenient it is for those involved and what you can reasonably do to compensate them. But do something. Otherwise, don’t expect your staff to step up if, or rather, when you need their help again.