Can We Really Trust Your Leadership?

can we really trust your leadership

How Did This Happen?

We were enjoying a breezy summer day in the Colorado mountains many years ago…

Our team of teachers and high school students had just finished a rafting trip, changed into fresh clothes, and loaded up our convoy of vans to head out to our hotel.

And I was leading.

I confidently led our convoy out of the parking lot and onto a frontage road that ran parallel to the highway before crossing over and merging – or so I thought.

With the other drivers in tight formation behind me, I led the team up a hill, but as I crested the hill and began descending the other side, it looked like the road was narrowing.

I slowed a bit, but kept going – we were in the mountains after all and roads aren’t always built perfectly.

But as I continued down the hill, the asphalt became just wide enough for one vehicle…until it took a sharp right and disappeared out of sight under the highway. And then I saw it…

A round ‘cornering mirror’…the kind frequently put on blind corners so bikes can see approaching bike traffic.

Bike traffic…

I’d led my team down a bike path.

Now we were stuck – a line of vans pointed downhill. No room to turn around and no way to go forward.

Ever Been There?

Have you led your team down a dead-end? Your idea didn’t work, your information was wrong, or you just plain screwed up?

What did you do next?

We had to unload all the students and then slowly back each vehicle up the hill then back down the other side until they reached the parking lot where they could turn around.

Also, I had to apologize.

One team member in particular found driving in the mountains a bit stressful and my mistake only added to her discomfort.

I had no real defense – no sign told me to take that ‘road’. It turned out I had misread a sign and then trusted my own instincts.

Answer the Question

The most vital question your team has about you is: Can we really trust your leadership?

The times you screw up give you one of the greatest leadership opportunities to answer this question.

In these moments you have the chance to build your credibility and your team’s trust…or to go the other direction and lose it.

Many times, leaders are reluctant to apologize because they fear they will be seen as incompetent or weak.

But this fear ignores one prominent fact:  Your team already knows!

Just like my driving down a bike path was clearly evident to everyone on the team, your team usually knows or strongly suspects when you’ve screwed up.

It’s not a secret.

Pretending they don’t know insults their intelligence and makes you look insecure.

Consequently, your team is unlikely to trust you. They’re saying to themselves, “Gee, he/she can’t even admit what we all can see” and they begin asking: “Can we really trust your leadership?”

That destroys your credibility.

In contrast, when you screw up and admit it, own it, apologize, and make it right, you actually increase your team’s trust in you.

They know that:

  • you are strong enough to do the right thing
  • you have integrity to admit truth even when it doesn’t cast you in the best light
  • you do not consider yourself more valuable than your team
  • you are committed to solutions and the mission above appearances

All that knowledge adds up to mean you’re reliable, credible, and can be trusted.

Can We Really Trust Your Leadership?

When you make a mistake, there are just a few simple things to do:

1) Take responsibility – “I did this. I will make it right.”

2) Apologize. Use plain language:  “I’m so sorry.”  ALWAYS beats: “I am sorry if you felt bad about my action” or “I apologize for the inconvenience.”  Be sincere – like you would with a spouse or close friend.

3) Make it right. If there is something you need to correct, fix, or restore – do it. Those vans had to be backed up and turned around. From a service perspective, sometimes it is useful to ask your team or customer: “How can I make this right?”


Your Turn

I’ve recalled that moment on the bike path many times through the years.

When I make a mistake I know the shortest path to get things going right again is to “back up the van” and find the right road.

Leave a comment and let us know:

What do you think keeps leaders from taking responsibility and apologizing?

How do you overcome your fears and apologize when you need to?

Take care,

David M. Dye

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