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Marek Struszczyk

Co-Founder ManagerUp

Last modified: May 27th, 2024


We all make mistakes – that misplaced comma, the off-tone remark in a meeting.  The sting of realizing you’ve messed up can feel intense. But the key to growth is knowing how to admit you were wrong and move forward gracefully.

Research shows that leaders who are willing to admit their mistakes, recognize their team member’s strengths, and demonstrate a desire to keep learning are viewed more positively. These qualities are all signs of genuine humility, making leaders more respected and approachable.

Admitting mistakes can be especially scary for those in leadership positions.  The fear is understandable – will your team lose respect? Will it make you look weak?  And then there’s the inner battle of learning from the mistake rather than just brushing it under the rug.

What if owning up to your mistakes actually strengthens your position? Imagine turning errors into opportunities to build trust and become the leader people admire.  Let’s explore eight practical ways to make this happen – transform how you handle slip-ups and grow into a better leader!

Way #1. Lead by Example

How to Admit You Were Wrong?
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There’s an old saying about how problems start at the top and trickle down. If you can’t own up to mistakes as the leader, your team won’t feel safe doing it either.  The good news?  There’s huge potential in setting an example for how to admit you were wrong.

Key Actions to take:

  • Own Your Mistakes: We’ve all seen a leader who blames everyone else the moment things go wrong. Don’t be that person! Admitting your mistakes makes you relatable and shows your team you’re human. It eases their pressure to be perfect, paving the way for real solutions.
  • Go Public (Sometimes): Admitting major errors openly takes courage, but it signals a culture of fixing problems instead of hiding them. It might hurt at the moment, but in the long term, it’s much healthier.
  • Be Humble: People love a humble leader – it shows you don’t have all the answers (because no one does!). Asking for feedback and showing you want to learn builds genuine trust with your team. A study by Ohio State University found that humble leaders create teams that share information more easily and are more creative.
  • Actions Speak Louder: Don’t just say you take responsibility – prove it! Learn from the mistake, fix it, and let your team see the change. That builds real credibility.
  • Encourage Transparency: When workplaces are transparent, people feel safe to share ideas and admit mistakes. This leads to better communication and problems get fixed faster.

Benefits:  This kind of strategy fosters a team-focused, innovative environment instead of one filled with blame.  Mistakes become opportunities for growth.  You basically become the kind of boss everyone wants!

Way #2. Frame Mistakes as Learning Opportunities

How to Admit You Were Wrong?
Click on the image to see a full infographic (opens in new tab)

What if mistakes could be exciting instead of terrifying? Imagine a workplace where errors are opportunities for growth. That’s the power of shifting how you view slip-ups, and it could change the entire vibe of your team.

Key Actions to take:

  • Reframe the Language: Lose words like “failure” and stick with “learning experience.” A simple vocabulary change makes mistakes feel less daunting and more like part of the process.
  • Dissect the Details: When something goes sideways, become a detective! Don’t focus on who messed up, but on why the problem happened. This is where you uncover valuable lessons.
  • Spread the Knowledge: Uncover a major system flaw? Learn a valuable marketing lesson? Share these insights with the team! It prevents others from repeating the same mistakes.
  • Make Changes Happen: Learning is great, but action is better! Put those lessons into practice by making real improvements. It demonstrates your commitment to growth.
  • Foster Curiosity: Encourage your team to try new things, knowing it’s okay if it doesn’t go perfectly. Celebrating risk-taking leads to innovation, even if there are a few stumbles along the way.

Benefits:  Embracing mistakes as learning tools benefits everyone!  It fosters creativity and a problem-solving spirit. When fear is minimized, you get bolder thinkers.

Way #3. Communicate Clearly and Professionally

How to Admit You Were Wrong?
Click on the image to see a full infographic (opens in new tab)

Messing up is tough.  Make it easier by having a clear communication plan.  This maintains your authority and builds trust while addressing the issue head-on.

Key Actions to take:

  • Own It: Skip the vague “maybe I messed up” language. Be direct: “I made a mistake. Here’s how I plan to fix it.”
  • Focus on Facts: Ditch emotional explanations. Stick to what happened, its impact, and your solution. It shows you’re focused on fixing the problem.
  • Have a Plan: Don’t just apologize, act! Outline specific steps you’re taking to correct the mistake. This restores confidence in your leadership.
  • Invite Feedback: Don’t disappear after admitting an error. Ask, “How can we improve in the future?” This shows you care about input and preventing more mistakes.
  • Body Language Matters: Stand tall, make eye contact, and speak clearly. It reinforces that you sincerely own the mistake and won’t back down.

Benefits:

Good communication turns mistakes into trust-building experiences. You prove you’re not just admitting the error but committed to solving it. That’s the kind of leader people respect!

Unique Insights: The Paradox of Perfection

You might think admitting mistakes is a career killer for leaders. But here’s the twist: sometimes owning up to an error actually proves you’re the right person for the job!

Here is how:

  • Authenticity Wins: People connect with leaders who are real, not robots. A simple “I messed up” builds trust and makes you seem relatable.
  • Resilience Matters: Everyone knows you’re not perfect. Owning your missteps shows your team you can bounce back and learn – setting a powerful example.
  • Better Decisions: We all have blind spots. Being honest about yourself helps you see when to delegate or ask for help. This means smarter choices based on actual skills, not a fake ‘always right’ image.

The Ripple Effect of Honesty

  • Improved Teamwork: When leaders model how to admit mistakes, teams feel safer speaking up. That openness is key for solving problems and uncovering those brilliant ideas that hide in a culture of fear.
  • Culture Shift: A company built on honesty feels different – employees are loyal, clients have faith, and everyone works better together.
  • Trust is Everything: Your reputation spreads! Being known for owning mistakes fosters respect throughout the company and beyond, opening up opportunities.

Long-Term Gains over Short-Term Ego

  • Yes, it might sting a bit to admit you messed up. But that’s nothing compared to the big career advantages that follow.
  • Career Growth: Leaders who are always learning get promotions; they adapt well to new challenges.
  • Stronger Relationships: People want to work with those they trust. Earn trust by owning your mistakes, and you’ll build relationships that last for years.
  • Less Stressful Workplace: It’s exhausting to pretend to be perfect! Create a safe space for learning from mistakes, and you’ll have a happier, healthier, and more loyal team.

This has been your ultimate guide to owning those “oops” moments as a leader. Don’t let this be just another article you read! The next time things go wrong put these tips into practice.  You’ll be surprised at how this strengthens your leadership.

The best leaders aren’t perfect; they’re real. They admit mistakes, learn, and keep improving. That’s the kind of strength that inspires loyalty and makes your team unstoppable. Let’s be the kind of leaders who make knowing “how to admit you were wrong” an essential part of success!

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