As leaders and human beings we all make mistakes. And owning our mistakes can be hard, and is integral to, well, leadership with integrity. Sound familiar? That said, if we take “owning” our mistakes too far, it can be an overly-humbling experience and potentially harmful. Let me explain.
At the time I was writing this, I had made a mistake that was causing people I respect and care about some real grief and angst. As I’ve been growing my purpose-driven business, I’ve taken on new systems, structures and people to help me grow. While exciting, the systems (and my ability to coordinate and manage them) are not yet operating seamlessly.
The mistake was double-booking some dates for an important partner-led client engagement (simply put, it is my partners’ business and I’m the talent on the ground). This client has proven to be demanding and at times rigid in our work together so far, so consistency, no surprises and a light touch have helped keep the relationship on track. As a result of my miscommunication, the double-booking included a 2-day offsite with the client organization overlapping with very important personal commitments about 5 months from now. (Note: In my past life, I would have immediately cancelled or changed my personal commitments; I’m now living a life that honours both the personal and professional equally). I caught the error reasonably quickly, and yet expectations with the client (and across their organization) had been set and so communicating changes was going to be a delicate process. The client also has taken a strong liking to my approach to this leadership development work and it was unclear how they would respond to new faces being brought in.
So, the truth I was having to live into was owning the confusion and challenges my mistake had created for my partners who were forced to look for options to present to this client. I was told it caused some sleepless nights (which I can appreciate given the client). This is not the impact I want to have in the world. I offered a number of alternatives to support as best I could, given the circumstance and variables involved. That said, I was the root cause of the conundrum. My mind chewed on the situation, my failings, the difficulties facing one colleague in particular, the impact to the client, etc. quite relentlessly for over a week. Owning my piece (and it’s a big one) of the situation was/is essential. For my integrity, I own it fully.
And now we get to feeding the animal….
What I started to notice is that without my vigilant awareness, thoughts of this situation continued to creep in, even dominate my thinking. And if I were to describe the quality of the thoughts, words that come to mind range from irritating, relentless, and uncomfortable to punishing, victimizing, and chastising. It was impacting my focus, the quality of other work I’m doing and my energy. It’s like there’s a wild animal making this one situation all about my entire life.
In my work as a CTI Faculty Member, and as a student of Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence work, I know this part of my brain, or mind if you will, to be my Saboteur. Even more specifically, borrowing from some of PQ’s concepts, my Judge is high active, judging me for my error and making it about more than this one instance. Thoughts like:
“This is going to cost you valuable and meaningful work in the future!”
“This is submarining your credibility with these people you respect.”
“Good job. You’ve now caused XX even more grief with this client.”
“It was only a matter of time before this happened. You really don’t have your &$*# together with these systems”
slipped in and out of my mind regularly. And even typing this feels deflating and like some kind of self-flagellation. And the more time I give it, or the more “thought wandering” I allow, the more the animal (or the Judge) gets fed. To make matters worse, another aspect of my Saboteur, my Pleaser (who wants everyone to be happy, caring least about me) is riding shotgun saying I should be cancelling personal plans and disappointing friends and family first and foremost.
So, these are the animals I refuse to feed. What does this mean? It means owning my mistake and pulling out a couple of lessons. It means saying “I’m sorry” earnestly and authentically to those I have impacted. It means digging deep to find some other alternatives to help rectify the situation so that my partners have choice. It means listening and empathizing with my partners and not making the conversations about my discomfort. And it means having a constructive mindset as an alternative to my Saboteur’s musings. And for this, I draw on my CTI work, specifically, one cornerstone of our model that suggests people are Naturally Creative, Resourceful and Whole (NCRW). This means my partner, who will have to at least co-lead this conversation with the client, is NCRW. So are the client and their organization when given these new options. And so am I. I am creating learning and resilience though this. This is the mind food I’m creating for myself. And the experience of typing this is radically different than the self-flagellation of earlier.
What I know through neuroscience is that both our Saboteur thoughts and our new mindsets e.g. (NCRW, learning and resilience) are just different sets of neural pathways in our brains. Each time we think either, those pathways are strengthened. One process is harmful, the other is helpful to building resilience and health.
So what truths are you living into that are hard to face? And what are the thoughts around these situations for you? Here are 5 tips to help you lean into your hardest truths and create health, compassion and resilience as you do:
- When you make a mistake, own it to yourself first and then to others whom it is/will impact. This helps to build trust, integrity and credibility with yourself and others.
- Say “I’m sorry” without any caveats (and trust me, my Saboteur wanted to offer LOTS). Authentic apologies are felt and in themselves can help create new options (in my humble opinion, this is done very rarely and is the cause of many extended and damaging conflicts in our world). Then listen to those you’ve hurt, and offer yourself as a partner to find new solutions that will help remedy the situation.
- Create a list of a few key learnings that this experience has taught you and decide how you will handle similar situations in the future.
- Understand what your Saboteur wants to say to you about this and make a short list of the 3-4 key messages it has (clue: it will be repetitive messages over and over and they will feel something like the situation I described above). This helps to disempower the animal.
- Come up with a new, future-oriented healthy mindset that honours the truth and points you towards a future of greater insight, wisdom, health and resilience for the great work you have to do that lies ahead.
So I invite you to say YES to the truths we all have to face being human, and to say NO to feeding the animals that have us be less than what we are meant to be.