Admitting You’re Wrong Is A Sign Of Strength

"An honest, heartfelt and immediate apology soothes even the most gruesome error."

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“It was the fragility of the market.”

“The infrastructure wasn’t good enough.”

“Going straight from being foreign secretary to the leadership campaign to Number 10 wasn’t ideal.”

“I didn’t realise how strong economic orthodoxy was”

In her first interview since leaving Downing Street, Liz Truss produced the above excuses, along with myriad more, to spread blame for her failed premiership. We all saw her headline in the Telegraph blaming her quick exit on the “left-wing economic establishment”. All the leaders I’ve worked with have had that moment where everything goes wrong. Usually, a rash decision or oversight is to blame; rarely have I seen such a long string of poor decision making as Truss demonstrated. My counselling to these leaders has always been to go towards the issue, hold their hands up, and admit wrongdoing.

Covering up the truth and pointing the finger can serve only one purpose: reputational damage. If you run away and hide, you give others the opportunity to take control of the narrative, and there will always be those that look to twist the knife deeper. There is nothing more difficult than trying to fend off attacks as more revelations come to light.

Handling these situations is much easier when you grab the opportunity to set the agenda by fessing up early and taking the sting out of the situation. Others now must contend with the context you have set and defined.

Another leader in the public eye who seemingly shirks all responsibility is Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. Following the portrayal in The Social Network of Zuckerberg as a smart but callous and power-driven leader, the CEO has yet to prove he is any different in real life. In February last year, he presided over the biggest one-day drop of any US stock in history. According to Zuckerberg, there were several factors to blame, including Apple’s privacy changes and increased competition from TikTok. He stunningly failed to mention the heavy spending and heavier losses in Meta’s virtual reality division. Once again, we have a leader who refuses to acknowledge that they made the wrong choice.

Zuckerberg’s actions and lack of accountability have fed his reputation as a glory-seeking loner, refusing to take counsel and advice from deputies. This ongoing cover-up and avoidance of blame will only make things worse. In some cases, leaders choose to reinvent history in the face of a crisis – just look at Elizabeth Holmes and Sam Bankman-Fried. These two reached new heights of deception in order to meet their own self-serving agendas. Maybe history would look more kindly on them if they had held their hands up earlier.

Accepting responsibility for our wrongdoings is something we have always taught to our children. At what point did it become acceptable to stop? When boiled down, it is simple. Take ownership, pursue corrective action, and reassure that the lessons have been learned. That is true leadership.

Tips for becoming an A player:

  • Remain transparent and honest
  • Be visible and respond to questions – no matter how puerile or offensive
  • Say sorry and mean it
  • Never blame others
  • Protect your people by taking full ownership

Thought for the week:

An honest, heartfelt and immediate apology soothes even the most gruesome error. 

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