As a culture, we have a real problem admitting when we’re wrong. This seems to be especially true in the workplace when people in positions of authority are concerned.
There are too many people who seem to think that admitting that they made a mistake or apologizing for a misstep makes you look weak and undermines your authority. They’ve been conditioned to see answering to others as something that diminishes their own power – especially when the other person/group is someone who is supposed to be “under” them.
After all, you don’t answer to people under you. You were put in charge for a reason, right? You earned the position fair and square and part of that reason is because you’re better at what you do than they are, yes?
Bullshit. (And we’re not even getting into the reasons why you might be “in charge” that have nothing to do with your being better at the job than someone else)
I’ve even been in situations when people above me have tried to tell me that I didn’t owe an apology to people on my team for a misunderstanding of something that I said which caused them concern. I wish I was kidding.
Admitting when you’ve made a mistake doesn’t make you look weak – especially as a leader. It makes you look like someone who can admit when they did something wrong, take responsibility for it, and do things better going forward.
Do you know what we call someone like that? An actual leader.
Doing right by the people who work under you and making up for it when you fail in that endeavor is part of how you foster trust and psychological safety within a group. It doesn’t cost you anything at all and only causes you to gain in the long term.
Will some people take that as a sign of weakness and try to exploit it? Sure, but there are assholes in this world and you can deal with them as they arise. On the whole, your people will only have more respect for you when you make things right by them.
As a general rule, any problems caused by admitting your mistakes are more likely to come from above you because of toxic leadership practices that your higher ups have bought into. They’re the same people who think that you saying you don’t know the answer to a question but can look into it is a sign that you don’t know what you’re doing.
If we want things to get better, we have to model the changes that we want to see in the workplace, and indeed in the wider world. Admitting you were wrong about something can be nerve wracking, but if you don’t, how can you expect others to do so?