Say, “I was wrong.”
I once came up with what I thought was an awesome plan to improve overall productivity by moving a crew to a different shift on a production line. The inconvenience to the crew was considerable, but the payoff seemed worth it. On paper, it was perfect.
In practice, it wasn't.
So a few weeks later I met with the crew and admitted my mistake.
I felt terrible. I felt stupid. I felt sure I'd lost any respect they had for me.
I was wrong about that, too. Later one employee said, "I didn't really know you, but the fact you were willing to admit you were wrong told me everything I needed to know."
When you're wrong, say you're wrong. You won't lose respect. You'll gain it. And your employees will be much more willing to disagree with you or share opposing opinions. They will know you realise you don’t have all the answers.
Say, "can you help me?"
When you need help, regardless of the type of help you need (or the person you need it from), ask for it.
You'll get help. In the process you'll show vulnerability, respect, and a willingness to listen – all qualities of a great leader.
They’re also the same qualities you want your employees to display.
Say, “can you show me?”
When you ask to be taught or shown something, several things happen: you implicitly show you respect the person giving the advice, you show you trust their experience, skill, and insight, and you get to better assess the value of the advice.
So don't just ask for input. Ask to be taught, trained or shown. Then you both win.
And you show, yet again, that you know you don’t have all the answers, and that you realise other people probably do.
Say nothing until you’ve had time to think
Facts and figures are important. Explaining the logic and reasoning behind a decision can help create buy-in and commitment. But staff sentiment is the key to getting things done. Embarrass employees in front of others and they will never forget.
Once an employee shared an idea in a meeting and I instinctively fired off a cynical comeback. Everyone laughed.
Everyone but him.
Our working relationship changed forever – even though I apologised on the spot and apologised again later. The damage was already done.
Spend twice the time thinking about how your employees will feel than you do thinking about logic and data. Correcting a data mistake is easy. Overcoming the damage you cause - whether intentional or not - to an employee's self-esteem is nearly impossible.
And overcoming the chilling effect a snide, sarcastic, or withering comment has on the rest of your team is just as impossible.
Always think before you speak. You – and your team – will be glad you did.
- Admit when you’re wrong
- Ask for help
- Get staff to show you things
- Don’t be flippant with your words