Written by: Karin Hurt and David Dye
What do you do when you’ve screwed up and everyone knows it?
Your failures weren’t just mistakes in judgment…you let yourself down. You didn’t keep your commitment. You hurt people you are supposed to help. Your team looks at you with disappointment.
We recently spent a week in Germany sharing Winning Well practices with project managers from throughout Europe and the Middle East.
One of the most striking aspects of our travel in Berlin was the way in which Germany has chosen to confront its own history.
In the center of Berlin you will find monuments to the millions of victims of the Nazi regime. Holocaust education is mandatory for every student. Sections of the Berlin wall remain along with memorials to those who were killed trying to cross that border.
The ways in which Germany has acknowledged and taken responsibility are solemn and humbling examples of how to address your own failures so you can rebuild your influence and credibility.
1. Don’t Hide
Germany has chosen not to run from its past. It is literally out in the open for everyone to see. When you screw up, break a promise, or hurt someone, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Acknowledge it. Own it.
German leaders up to this day have apologized with statements of shame and repentance. Many leaders struggle to apologize for fear that it will make them look weak or ruin their credibility. The opposite is true. It takes strength to apologize and a straightforward apology builds your credibility. It signals that your team can trust you and it models how they should behave when they let one another down.
3. Learn and Make It Right Going Forward
When you’ve hurt someone or broken your word, do what you can to rectify the situation. These actions and commitments don’t erase what was done and, depending on the severity of your behavior, you may not regain the trust of those you hurt, but they do give you a chance to rebuild your credibility, influence, and relationships. Following large reparation payments and support for survivors, Germany has committed itself to human rights and living up to ideals of human dignity, diversity, and respect.
Progress Not Perfection
It’s not perfect.
Germany continues to struggle with anti-Semitism and the challenge of welcoming refugee immigrants while integrating new arrivals into a culture that strives to live up to its ideals of diversity and respect.
Your team doesn’t expect you to be a perfect person. They’re not perfect and when they see you screw up, own your failures, and move forward, you make it more likely that they’ll trust you and be able to do the same.
We recognize that for some readers this may be a challenging article. We do not mean to make light of the pain you have experienced nor would we suggest that you should readily trust someone only because they have apologized.
For others, we recognize the challenge that comes with discussing what has become the embodiment of evil in our age. We do not intend to make light of these events nor make false equivalencies between a leader’s broken promise and the systematic extermination of human beings. Even so, the principles that apply here apply to us all.
Lead well – the world needs you.
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