Knowing how to admit mistakes

Dear Joan:
We work in a branch sales office for a big company in the Midwest. Our office is mostly sales people with support staff. The head of our office retired recently and we were "given" a new boss from the home office. Everyone hated this new boss and this was made worse because we all liked the old boss so much.

We have a situation in our office that we think other managers can benefit from. This new boss is much more "hard charging" than our old boss. The first thing he did when he got here was to tell everyone that the hours were going to be 8:00 not 8:30. The next thing he did was to tell everyone we were going to have a smoke free environment. We can tell you that not much work got done because everyone was so furious!

It didn't take him long to figure out that there was going to be a mutiny. Well, he must have gotten the message-or someone talked to him because he made a public apology!

He wrote all of us a personal letter saying that he was sorry he rushed into so many changes and that he realized he may have been too sudden but that his intentions were good. Then he made personal visits to some people and asked them what changes they wanted to make and what opinions they had. He also apologized to them.

You can imagine how shocked we all were. That apology surprised everyone and we certainly had a different feeling about him after that. Of course some of us are still holding our opinions to see what he'll do in the long run but for the most part our attitudes are changing.

We wanted to write to you and hope you will publish this for other managers who blow it. A simple "I'm sorry" goes a long way.

Amen. And while we're at it, how about: "Gee, I don't know the answer to that question," and "What can I do to help you?" and "Oh no, I forgot!" and "I have a problem. Can you help me solve it?"

Some think bosses who say, "I'm sorry" are really saying, "I'm weak." These are the same managers who wonder why their employees lie, blame others for their mistakes and who fail to inform them about a mistake until they're in a crisis. Of course, this only reinforces the boss's belief that he or she must stay in firm control and the cycle continues.

Only the confident and strong manager can admit mistakes, ask for help and admit he or she doesn't have all the answers.

Power doesn't automatically come with the title on the door. Oh sure, you can intimidate employees into doing things your way and comfort yourself by thinking you really have things under control but you'll never have their full commitment to their jobs. If they can't have an open mutiny, they'll have an underground one. Your boss blew it but recovered remarkable well. By admitting his mistake, he earned the respect he thought would come naturally.

Many new bosses make the mistake of changing things too quickly. They want to prove they are good leaders and "take charge" individuals. Often, it's their own managers who are the root of the problem. Sometimes the senior manager thinks things were "too loose" under the former boss and that "changes need to be made." The new boss is told to "take charge" and then, ironically, is blamed later for the poor morale and lousy production numbers.

There is a lesson here for all of us. If you doubt the power of admitting your mistakes, reconsider that philosophy while sipping a Coke Classic. The Coca-Cola people know it pays to say, "I'm sorry."

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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