I had to call a senior official in Washington D.C. this week. You see, one of our projects was not turning out the way it should. People had been led to believe something that was no longer accurate. We had to correct the record. But instead of making a lot of excuses, blaming the system, or putting fault on my predecessors, I opened with a line I use way too often: "I screwed up."
I have a lot of company these days:
"I screwed up," said Olympic champion Michael Phelps for his poor judgement in using drugs.
"I screwed up," said baseball star Alex Rodriguez for his use of performance enhancing drugs during three years in Texas.
"I screwed up," said President Obama for suggesting that it was okay to not pay taxes by standing by some of his (non-tax paying) cabinet appointees.
And whether or not they will admit it, there is a lot of mea culpa to go around with the failings of so many businesses, banks, state governments, schools, etc. Occasionally (though not as often as they should), the leaders of those enterprises will let people know that they "screwed up."
No blog post of mine gets as many google search hits as my writings about "My Greatest Failures." I've screwed up plenty. And it looks like I have a lot of company out there based on all the searches on those words!
But there is no way to sugar coat it. Nor should we try. Start by acknowledging failure, by stepping up and accepting the burden of leadership and recognizing that the shortcomings of the team begin with the shortcomings of the leader. Step up and take it. Let people know you screwed up. Then learn from it, fix it, make corrections.
I appreciate the President's use of those words. That sort of refreshing candor is worthy of emulation by all leaders. It is good to see others following suit.
Now, let's see if the financial industry CEOs who testify before Congress today can do the same! Let's see if the people who got us into this mess (and there are many who share in this failure -- from people who overspent to governments and financial institutions who did the same) can step up and accept blame for their actions. Let's see who else can open with, "I screwed up!"
I know that's how I would start on the road to recovery. That's Leader Business!